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  • Citadel: First Colony: Book One of the Citadel Trilogy
    Citadel: First Colony: Book One of the Citadel Trilogy
  • Citadel: Paths in Darkness (Volume 2)
    Citadel: Paths in Darkness (Volume 2)
  • College Made Stupid Simple: A guide to getting more than a diploma
    College Made Stupid Simple: A guide to getting more than a diploma
Friday
Apr192013

breviticipitation

Yesterday I talked with three different friends on three different topics. A couple of them came to me for advice and counsel, one was just offering encouragement. But all three ended up giving me counsel and inspiration in areas of my life where I hadn't even realized there was a need!

That's the way it works when two or more gather in His name.

When two or more Christians come together, they feed and strengthen each other. Their intention to help each other and to serve and glorify God creates synergy (I know ... over-used word from 90s business. But as one friend points out to me, words matter. Words have power!). Christians, coming together with their minds open and their hearts willing, can make anything happen.

My friend Rick called to chat about a few things he's interested in. He wanted some practical advice, and I am always MORE than happy to give that, even if I don't have any! But it turned out that I did have some things I could contribute, and in our sharing he said some things that gave me a great sense of joy and strength. I felt closer to God by being closer to one of God's children. 

At one point I quoted my favorite Zig Ziglar quote:

You will get allyou want in life if you help enough other people get what they want. 

—Zig Ziglar

He immediately saw a connection to a quote from Norman Schwarzkopf:

"You can't help someone get up a hill without getting closer to the top yourself."

—H. Norman Schwarzkopf

Bam! Two Christian brothers share two quotes that express one idea to rule them all. I like that. And I might never have encountered that quote, and might never have gained a bit of "wisdom reinforcement" from it, without putting heads together with a Christian friend.

Another of my trusted Christian friends, Marshal, gave me some wisdom about the length of these blog entries, and that is (in part) why I'm about to wrap this up for the morning. He was gracious enough not to out-and-out call me a windbag (though he's not one to shy away from telling it like it is), but he did say that there are times when I could have ended a post a bit sooner than I did. It's the kind of brevity-through-editing that I require from writers who work for me, so how could I demand any less of myself? 

I realized that he's right, and that I need to take a closer look when I'm writing these posts, the same way I look at work I do for my work, and find where the "fat" can be trimmed. 

But he also said that sometimes the message may not be FOR him. And that makes a lot of sense to me, too. Sometimes, when I'm reading, I think, "Yeah, yeah, Author X. Enough already. I get the point! Move along!" That's me filtering the work through my own knowledge and experience. But another reader, someone who hasn't been exposed to the ideas as often as I have, may find it vital, even enthralling, and may need that extra verbiage to really get a full grasp of the concept.

So if I go a little long at times, just bear with me. When I write these posts, I pray first, and ask God to give me the words that will glorify Him, reach others in His name, and reach me as well. Somtimes that will mean that what I'm writing isn't meant for you (or isn't entirely meant for you). I may actually be talking to me!

The short of it all is this: Even if you don't feel you need counsel right now, talk to your Christian friends. Look into their needs. Offer them everything you can. Do it in God's name and to His glory. Because you'll likely find that they can offer you strength and encouragement in areas where you didn't even realize you needed it.

Thursday
Apr182013

opportuniticity

Last night, in week four of Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University, one of the things we discussed was "opportunity cost." I've heard of the concept before, but in light of the things that have been on my mind lately, and the changes that are happening in my life, it struck a chord with me on more than just the level of financial education.

Here's a simple definition to start with:

Opportunity cost  n. The loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.

In other words, what are you giving up when you make the decision to buy or do something else? 

From a money perspective, this is a handy way to talk yourself out of making a significant, pricey purchase of something that doesn't add value to your life. "If I buy this television, I lose the opportunity take a trip to Disney World." Or maybe "If I buy this car, I lose the opportunity to put a down payment on a house." Or maybe "If I spend $30 on lunch at this restaurant I'll lose the opportunity to take my wife to a movie tonight." 

This idea makes great sense to me. I'm a "consequences" kind of guy. I know that every action has a consequence, and the secret to having a good and happy life is to decide, in advance, the types of consequences you want to cultivate. So thinking in terms of opportunity costs works well for me.

It isn't limited to money, of course. Everything in life is an opportunity, and most of the time accepting one means losing out on another.

If you date this cute girl, you miss out on the opportunity to date her best friend—so which girl do you like or connect with better? 

If you choose to gossip about someone, you miss out on the opportunity to build a strong friendship with them—so do you want to be their friend?

If you choose not to exercise, and instead eat lots of junk food and do nothing but watch TV, you miss out on the opportunity to be fit and attractive and have lots of energy and strength—so do you care more for chicken wings and the latest episode of "Complete Trash: The un-Reality Show" than for your own body? 

If you cheat on your wife, you miss out on an opportunity to have a loving and trusting marriage—so do you love your wife more than the affair?

Looking at life from the perspective of "opportunity cost" can change your perspective on daily decisions, big and small. This is long-tail thinking, far-reaching perspective. This is you looking ahead at the life you want, rather than the life you have.

I'm a believer, so I see this from the perspective of God's will for my life. I think that one of the best ways to weigh opportunity costs for my daily decisions is to pray for wisdom and increased faith and to be filled with the Holy Spirit. With God's Word as my guide, I have something to weigh my choices against. It gives me a compass point, a life to aim for.

Maybe for you, that isn't the case. Maybe you value family values or professional success or personal integrity more. I respect that, because I know how powerful those things can be as motivations. I think, personally, you'd get all of those as part of a strong relationship with God, but I understand if you see it differently.

This is life-changing advice, and it's advice I'm following myself. Look at every decision in your life from the perspective of opportunity cost, and ask yourself if what you're choosing is leading you away from or toward your goals.

Which begs the question: Have you set any goals?

You can't weigh your opportunity costs without knowing where you're trying to go. This tool only works if you have a plan. So sit down, right now, and jot down three things you want to accomplish with your life. They can be anything, from "Lose 20 pounds in six months" to "Win a Pulitzer Prize before I turn 30."  Just make sure they're specific and that they have a timeline for completion. 

Once you have those three goals, use them to determine the opportunity costs of your decisions. Will Choice A get you closer to or further away from your goals? Will Choice B? Go with the choice that gets you closer, and you'll never regret the choice.

Last parting advice—choose the opportunity God has opened up for you. This is a chance to have a life that outlasts your time on Earth. It's a chance to have joy that makes your best memories seem like the least of your good days. It's a chance to experience love that goes deeper, farther, higher, and wider than any you've ever experienced, or ever thought you could. 

If you need help or advice about reaching this opportunity, let me know. I want to help you see it, if you're curious. And maybe I can help you see some other opportunities in your life, too. Sometimes we need someone who loves us to point out what's right in front of us, hiding in plain sight.

Wednesday
Apr172013

good intendifications 

Good intentions. We all have them. Mine usually revolve around learning something new, applying it to my life, making myself better, and then using that growth to help other people. It sounds pretty simple when I put it down on screen like that. Makes me wonder why it sometimes feels so hard

The thing is, good intentions are essential to improving your life. You have to have a plan. It's unavoidable. You have to know where you're going if you have any hope of getting there. That's intention. And if you want your destination to be good, the steps you use to get there have to be good. Good intentions. No one makes a good meal from a bad recipe or bad ingredients.

The reason it sometimes seems so hard is because our own good intentions aren't enough. We can't see the road far enough ahead, and so we can't know when things are going to get dicey or go south or veer to the side. That's why it's important to temper our intentions with wisdom and faith and the strength of the Holy Spirit.

Wisdom will get you further than almost any other tool in your box. King Solomon was given a choice of anything he wanted. "Just ask," God said, "and it will be yours. No strings attached. Tell me." Solomon could ask for immortality, or the wealth of every nation, or control of all the lands of the Earth. Instead, he asked for wisdom.

God was so impressed by the request, He gave Solomon greater wisdom than any man who had ever lived, or would ever live. And funny enough, because of that wisdom Solomon got all of that other stuff anyway! Plus more and more and more than he ever could have imagined before.

One of the culminating works of that wisdom is the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament. It contains wisdom beyond measure, a treasure unequaled on Earth!

Dave Ramsey—radio host, author, financial and business leadership guru, and solid Christian man—says in his Financial Peace University course, "There are 31 chapters in the book of Proverbs. If you read one a day, in a month you'd have the equivalent of a Masters course in finance." 

Beyond that, Proverbs can give you a daily dose of wisdom that will change every aspect of your life, from money to relationships to running a business to achieving better health. Go to BibleGateway.com and type "Proverbs" into the search engine. You can pick any translation you want, including plain ol' modern day English, and start learning more and more and more about God's power in every aspect of your life. 

It should be noted, also, that Solomon's quest for wisdom was not limited to spiritual works. He not only studied the writings of Godly men, but the wisdom of other cultures as well. He poured over texts from ancient cultures, and used his "discerning heart" to find God's wisdom hidden there. And then he applied that wisdom to what he knew of God's Word, and used it to structure and live his life.

Remember, according to John 1:1-18, God's Word not only predates the written works, but was present in the very beginning of creation. In fact, God's Word was God Himself! And that Word became flesh, which we know to be Jesus Christ. 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

John 1:1-2

The Word isn't just contained in the pages of your Bible. You can look all around you, at the whole of the world, and if you apply your discerning heart through prayer and study, you can see God's wisdom everywhere. Learn and grow from it. 

Faith seems to be one of those enigmatic concepts that confounds and infuriates people (me included). My own struggle with faith is that I haven't had a clear definition of it in my head and heart. I want to believe, and I want that belief to empower me, but I seem to always forget about faith when it comes down to the grit and grime of my day. 

Faith is more than just "belief." It is belief, but also trust. Above all, though, faith is obedience. 

To start building more faith, you start with wisdom. Start looking at the world around you, studying books and films and even television shows with an intensity for digging wisdom out of every crevice where you can find it. 

The act of looking for and discerning wisdom in everything, studying everything and praying for increased wisdom, will feed your faith and bring some added benefits as well. Proverbs 21:21 says:

Whoever persues reighteousness and love finds life, prosperirty and honor.

Proverbs 21:21

As you start seeing God's Word all around you, and start seeing the results of it in your daily life, your faith starts to increase. And it only takes a wee bit of faith to do a great deal. It's a seed, and it grows as it is nurtured and cared for. That nurturing comes from pursuing righteousness and love. It comes from seeking wisdom.

The Holy Spirit is the ingredient I was missing most when I was struggling to get a grip on my life. And, when I find myself struggling again, I can usually trace the struggle back to my movement away from the Holy Spirit.

When Christ died, He told His disciples that he would be moving on, going back to His place in the Kingdom of God. But He would send another to be with us. 

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—

John 14:16

That advocate is the Holy Spirit. The third person of God Himself. He dwells with us, in us, all around us. The Holy Spirit is the source of wisdom and the power of faith. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can do anything!

But we have to invite Him in. He's there, waiting on the edges, waiting for us to say, "Take it. Take control. I surrender." And once He's invited, He smiles, rolls up His sleeves, and gets to work.

Trouble is, we can uninvite Him. We see all the good stuff happening and we say, "OK, great! I'll take it from here!" And we plow into His work, making a real mess of it all.

Or worse, we see things going a different way than we might have planned or wanted and we yell, "NO! This isn't what I want! I'm taking over!" And then we jump into the muck and get ourselves nice and dirty, and lose sight of the fact that God sees further down the road than we do. We're stuck here, wallowing in the mud puddle, when God was just trying to get us through it so we'd have a smoother, easier path on the other side.

We've been given free will, and it's been both a blessing and a curse. We're free to say, "No thanks, I'll take care of this on my own." Or we're free to say, "I surrender, God. Please, fill me with your Holy Spirit. Please lead me to your righteousness and your love."

It's an invitation we have to make over and over, because we keep revoking it over and over. 

As we search for wisdom, as we increase our faith, we must also remember to invite the Holy Spirit, to surrender to Him, to give Him the decision making power in our lives. We have to reaffirm it, over and over, because it's always our choice. 

It's not easy sometimes, to turn it all over. Especially since we often can't see what's going on, where it's all going, where the "good stuff" lies. All we tend to focus on is the bad, the hard, the painful. We forget that none of this lasts forever. We only see what's happening right now, and can't even imagine it getting better.

But it does. It can. It will. 

Good intentions aren't enough, though. Not ours, anyway. A remarkable life, filled with joy and prosperity, comes from surrender to the intentions of God. We can live our Intended Life. The steps are easy. They just look hard.

If you want to live your Intended Life (notice how I keep capitalizing it? almost like a brand or something), God has it all mapped out for you. If you need help, need a nudge, need advice or consultation or just someone to complain to, drop me a note. Use my Contact button, up top, or leave a comment below. We'll work through it together. I'll pray for you and with you. I'll give you whatever advice I have, and share with you whatever God has taught me. We can be a strength to each other. 

God has an Intended Life for you. His intentions are better than good. He has a plan and a power, and He's inviting you to be a part of both. 

Monday
Apr152013

powerification 

This morning is tough. I'm fighting a cold that's hung on for about three weeks now. I'm struggling against the lingering effects of Nyquil, which has me feeling a little doped up and out of it, even after seven hours of sleep. I'm facing down anxiety over the usual deadlines and demands of my day. It's a tough morning.

And then there's this blog. For the past month or so I've been able to just sit down, pray, and start writing with no trouble. I could usually tell when I was trying to write it "myself," rather than trusting God for what I needed to say. I'd struggle with it. The words wouldn't come easily, I'd have to drag them out, kicking and screaming. I was writing for myself, and not for the glory of God. Not the right idea for a blog I've dedicated to God's glory, first, and to helping others reach their intended life, second. This morning I had a bit of that before I could get started (you should see the stuff I deleted!).

These days aren't uncommon. I have them pretty often, actually. Maybe the blog comes easy for the day, but then I face the challenge of doing my work, and doing it well. Or I face the challenge of willpower and self control regarding food and exercise and attitude and finances. Or I face the challenge of butting heads with Kara over issues that shouldn't matter as much as they seem to in the moment. Or I face the challenge of facing down self doubts and anxiety and fear over things I can't control or can't know or can't predict. 

I'm challenged, every day, to live an intended life. 

You probably have that, too. Your job isn't what you want it to be, or your family life stinks, or your health is awful, or you just can't stop feeling anxious and scared and worried all the time. 

Usually we feel like this because we think we're being overwhelmed by the details of life. So many things to do! So much to pay attention to! SO. MANY. THINGS.

One at a time. That's the ticket. The magic cure. One task, job, or worry at a time. I have to remind myself, sometimes, that I have plenty of time to get to everything, if I just face one thing first, and then the next, and then the next. And if I don't have time to get to it all, I have to prioritize and do the important stuff first. And if it all seems important, I have to realize that I may fail, I may suffer a consequence, and the best I can do is minimize that consequence as much as possible. Or get some help.

When I was working in electronics I had to be mindful of loads. When working with electricity, a load is the amount of draw on power that a circuit creates. In general, the more parts there are to a circuit (the more the circuit can do) the more load it draws.

A single battery can run a lot of stuff for a while. But eventually, the load runs it down, and the battery has to be replaced or recharged. That means "time out" for whatever the circuit is doing. It means putting things on hold while the battery "rests." 

If you want more life for the circuit, to do more stuff and do it for longer periods of time, one way is to connect batteries in parallel. This means you use multiple batteries, wired to work together, to produce the same work force, but with increased longevity. Two batteries doing the work will last longer than one battery on its own.

That's why marriage is such a blessing. Two hearts and minds working toward one common goal? That should make it easy! Of course, this pre-supposes you actually are working toward the same goal. To do that, you actually have to have a goal.

In electronics, engineers create a circuit schematic so they can see all the operations of a circuit, to trace down trouble when it happens. The schematic for your marriage is a plan the two of you should sit down at least once per month and actually talk to each other. Write down the goals you both have, and what you can do to move toward them. When a problem comes up, refer to your goals and your plan and work together to get yourselves on track. Sound too simple? It's a lot of work, actually, which is the point. It's work, but it's work you do together, as a team, as a married couple.

Beyond marriage, there's the importance of having people who can work with you in your daily life, to help support you in making wise decisions, to help keep you on track for your personal and career goals. It's important to have a team that you can turn to for advice and for help and for strength.

I have a great group of friends, and I can turn to them for advice on a wide range of topics. I don't always turn to them the way I should, however, and that's typically when I start feeling overwhelmed.

It's important to realize, also, that the two batteries in our example above work together, as equals. One battery isn't dominant over the other. Both are on the same wiring. Both serve the same purpose. Both carry the same load. Both light up their world together, or one, on its own, will just wear out first and leave the other to wear out after a time, too. 

You have to approach friendships, business partnerships, marriage, and every relationship as a coming-together of equals with a common cause. Each of you should look to help carry the load of the other. Each should focus on doing whatever you can for the other. That's the key to success, in life and in business.

Putting several batteries in parallel gives you greater strength. Don't stop with just your spouse or your best friend or your business partner. Get more people involved! Connect with a like-minded couple, find a career mentor, bring in a third, startegic business partner. Bring many people together under the same goal, and help each other to master finances and health and children and vacations and work stress and gardening and whatever else is part of the circuit load of your life.

Tough mornings will always come. They're a part of the gig. You know, "being human." It's there, every day, for you to face. But God has provided you with a means for dealing with the load in your life. God is the power that flows through your circuit. He's your current and voltage. He's your "working force." And he likes to work with batteries in parallel.

The Bible lays out the circuit for inviting God's motive power into your life.

20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Matthew 18:20

Two or three (or more), working with God as their voltage and current. That's a circuit that can do anything.

Rough day? Hard start? Lingering cold? No rest over the weekend? Heavy workload ahead?

Pray with someone. Ask for strength to face the day. Start every day like that and see how much more you can accomplish. Gather all the batteries you can find, connect yourselves in parallel, ask God to power you, and you can light up the world. 

 

Friday
Apr122013

self controlitude

In my reading and studying over the past couple of days, one of the topics that has bubbled to the top is "self control."

Oy.

I have not been the most reserved, self-controlled person in the past. I like to "reward" myself for a job well done or for being "diligent" about something. You know what I'm talking about here? "I've done pretty well on this diet, so it's OK if I eat this entire carton of ice cream in one sitting." Or maybe "I've been pretty good about sticking to my budget, so it's OK if I over-spend on this pair of shoes." Guys ... this isn't just a woman thing. I've been known to drop some chunky cash on a pair of Chucks. Ladies ... I'm not going to let guys pick on you for your shoes. Feet have to look and feel good. Solidarity.

Self control is one of those things that we know ... we KNOW ... we have to develop, and yet we can't seem to get past stage one. We can't seem to make self control a dominating habit in our lives.

I have this theory that it's because we are looking at it from too far out.

"You mean I can NEVER HAVE ICE CREAM AGAIN?!?"

"I can NEVER BUY ANOTHER PAIR OF SHOES?!?"

"I have to exercise MORE THAN TEN MINUTES PER WEEK?!?" Ok, that one is probably more of a Kevin thing.

And no, none of that is true. It's not even the goal. It's the thing our brain screams when we start projecting outward, looking into the future that we can't know, extrapolating from the present moment that "this is how life is now." 

Developing good habits takes time and effort, but we tend to get bogged down by the sheer volume and weight of it. It's too much! It's too overwhelming! No one can bear up under that kind of burden!

True.

What, you were expecting a pep talk? Words of encouragement? "Keep going! Keep pushing! Keep doing!" Nah, that's for suckers. Everyone knows that you can't overcome obesity or debt or potty mouth or lack of education. Impossible!

Right?

But we do know that these things can be done. We see examples every day of people who have accomplished the very thing we want to accomplish. We see folks who have dropped all the extra weight, who have paid off the debt, who have cleaned up their language, who have gone back to school and earned an advanced degree. Did they do that over a weekend?

No. They did it one bite, one dollar, one swear jar, one class at a time. 

The key to developing self control is repetition. Do the small things, the smallest chunk, over and over, and eventually that becomes your habit.

The usual analogy is eating an elephant.

"How do you eat an elephant? One bite at at time!"

I don't eat a lot of elephants. What I understand easier is books.

How do you write a book? One page at a time!

Maybe you're better with LEGO. 

How do you build the LEGO Death Star? One brick at a time!

Big stuff is made of small stuff.

Let that soak in for a second. Big stuff, no matter how big it is, will always, always, always be made of lots of small stuff. Your car is made of thousands of small parts. Your house is made of small bricks and bits of plaster and wood and tile. The whole UNIVERSE is made of teensy, tiny little atomssuckers are everywhere.

And habits, like self control? They're made of small stuff too.

You decide to take a bag lunch every day instead of buying lunch at a restaurant. That's self control, and it helps you control your calories and your budget.

You decide to take a course on household accounting at your local junior college. One class, once per week, for nine weeks, and suddenly you have more knowledge, more friends, and a firmer grasp on how to manage your household budget.

You decide to lose weight. You change one small thing at a time, take it day by day and week by week, and suddenly this massive goal turns into a whole bunch of tiny little goals that you can manage.

Losing 100 pounds sound daunting? How about doing 10 sit ups today? Now, maybe 10 more tomorrow? 

Paying off $50K in debt got you worried? Can you put ten bucks into a savings account? Can you do that once per week?

Eating an elephant looking a little tough to swallow? Don't eat an elephant. What are you thinking? That's not good for either of you.

Take a look at the big, scary thing you're facing, and ask yourself, "What is the smallest action I can take, right this minute, that could start chipping away at this?"

I remember hearing a story about someone asking Michelangelo how he carved his David out of marble. He replied, "I looked the marble, then chipped away all the parts that were not David." Chip, chip, chip. One chip at a time, until the huge block of formless marble becomes one of the most recognizable pieces of artwork in the world. Can you handle a chip at a time?

Self control is about repeating good habits. It's about committing to asking God and yourself what is right, and then doing that. Chances are, if you're questioning whether or not a choice you're making is the right choice, it isn't. So ask yourself, "What's the right thing to do?"

Tempted by chocolate? Me too. That's why I let myself eat a small piece of dark chocolate every evening, after dinner. It's also why I eat as much chocolate as I want during the weekends. Hey, don't give me that look. I have to wait all week for that chocolate! And frankly, by the time the weekend gets here I'm so stuck on the idea of skipping chocolate I tend not to even think about it. It helps, too, that I don't keep much of it in the house any more. Easy to avoid temptation when there isn't anything to be tempted about!

Set up some kind of automated process to help keep you honest. It's not cheating! It's winning! It's OK to park at the very end of the parking lot to force yourself to get in a little extra exercise. It's OK to set up an automatic draft on your paycheck to put money into savings each month. It's OK to give someone else your shopping list and money to do your shopping, to keep you from grabbing stuff that isn't on the list. It's OK to build some backup into your plan. That's self control, too.

Self control is a tough habit to develop. It only comes when you start using it. Kind of like faith, huh? It's there, waiting for you to start before it really kicks in. So the only real self control you need is just enough to make that first decision, to take that first step. Then you just need enough to take the next step. And then enough to take the next step. And enough to take the next step.

So really, on the whole, all you need is enough self control to do one small thing right. And repeat.