As parents, we have the great and grave responsibility to speak to the very
core of our children’s being and tell them what they are worth. Whether we speak truthfully or falsely, they will most likely take that belief about themselves to the grave.
Also as parents (especially the father, but not strictly so) we become the model of what our children will initially believe God is like; and only naturally from there, are a big catalyst in the equation of whether our children ever acknowledge a belief in God or not. Who wants to believe in a God who is unreliable, untrustworthy, inconsistent, angry, unloving or a jerk? Not me, thanks.
But on the flip side, when you have a mother and a father who have always made you feel loved, even when you screwed up and were in a lot of trouble, and you read that “God is your heavenly Father”, you think “Wow! He must be an all right guy! Hard to believe He can live up to what I got here, but I’ll at least give Him a chance.”
I have two parents who meet the above description, but in honor of Mother’s Day, I will focus on my mom, Louise B. Phillips.
“Unconditional love” is an amazingly powerful force, and if you are the fortunate recipient of it, it is almost certainly demonstrated by either your parents or God. In it are peace, security, strength and confidence and I do not know of anyone who has manifested it more powerfully that my mom.
Such love is literally divine, having its source in the One who unconditionally loves us. It practically radiates off of her. It covers my brother Allen and me, but from there extends far beyond most people’s “conditional like” if I may coin a phrase. As Christians we are to love the unlovable, which is really hard. She does that. And everyone she knows would attest to it.
In high school, I observed an interesting phenomenon. On occasion, a very average looking guy would have a stunning girlfriend. I eventually made sense of it and realized that it happens on one of two occasions: either the guy has a lot of money, or he has a very healthy self-esteem. The love of our parents is the single greatest source of our self-esteem. It does not come from being told that we are good at something even when we are not. It comes from being loved when we (who know just how flawed we are) do not think we are worthy of that love.
I am and always have been the recipient of such love from my mom and it has affected everything in my life. I definitely married up (way up, you might say), have had a sense of security that has allowed me to take great risks in my faith, business and relationships, and hopefully have been able to show others a fraction of that same love I have always witnessed first-hand. Most of all, I hope that our two kids, Thatcher and Chandler, grow up with that same sense of always being loved and thereby feeling lovable.
In this life when people want to truly honor someone else, just about the most significant manifestation of that desire is to name a child after that person. If you saved someone’s life, you may have received that rare honor. I’m still working on it myself. My mom has three beautiful young girls named after her. That’s right…three. So not only will her love that she has always shown Allen and me be passed down, but also her name and her wonderful life story along with it.
To a Mom who blesses absolutely everyone she encounters; to a Mom who gives the unlovable a divine sense of worth; to a Mom who has always loved the dickens out of me; and to a Mom who deserves more than I could ever give…
My wife Nicole is ridiculously talented artistically. And whereas most artists’ talents are
restricted to one or two mediums, Nicole’s abilities know no bounds. In fact, she loves finding something that is completely new to her and figuring out how to do it.
We all possess something that no one else does. It is a big part of what makes us unique. Whatever that gift is, whether it is a physical possession, a talent that is exceptional, or a personality characteristic that makes us stand out, we basically have two options of what we can do with it.
The first option is that we can use that gift to set us apart from others as someone to be admired or envied. When we do this, odds are, we will have a few people who we call “friends”. They will tend to be others with some exceptional gift (perhaps similar to ours, but not necessarily so) and our common bond will be our exceptionalism.
This approach isolates and creates a context from which the “gifted” look down on the plebeians as people who possess less value. One great risk of taking this route is that the second your “gift” is gone, those you once thought were friends will immediately cast you out among the commoners you looked down upon. That means that at the very moment you need your “friends” the most, they will completely abandon you.
Then there is a second option. Rather than using that with which you were blessed to bolster your personal image, you instead use it primarily as a means of blessing others. One is not likely to reach this conclusion from outside of a Judaeo Christian worldview which teaches that “Every good and perfect gift comes from above….” (James 1:17) From that perspective, we have been entrusted with our gifts and since the ultimate source is God, we have no right to feel arrogant about it.
This approach, you will quickly find, produces some amazing results.
People who live like this are magnetic. They
bring people together and something more akin to community takes place, rather than the isolation created by Option A. Secondly, and perhaps even more amazing than the first, you will discover that you actually get more enjoyment out of your gift when you allow others to enjoy it with you. There is a reason we try so hard to teach our children to share when they are young, and that is because it is genuinely Good.When you do Good things with your gifts, is it any surprise that Good things happen?
Nicole could very easily use her gifts to look down on others as less talented than she is, because quite frankly almost everyone is less artistically talented than she is. But the thing is, she doesn’t. Instead of viewing life through the prism of her gifts, she views her gifts through the prism of her Christian life. As a result, her gifts give her an amazing opportunity to bless others in her own unique way.
And bless she does!
How can you use your unique gifts to be a blessing to others?
*This is merely one application of this verse, and I first thought of the principle then the verse, rather than reaching the principle from the verse via exegesis.
His name was David. I didn’t know it at the time, and truth be told I didn’t want to know it. I just wanted to grab a couple of energy drinks at the gas station and see if there were any new movies at Redbox that Nicole and I could watch over the weekend.
“Avoid eye contact” is kind of the rule of thumb with homeless people. If you don’t, he is likely to engage you, and that can get pretty uncomfortable.
There was a man sitting with his back against the window right next to the Redbox kiosk, and I intended to avoid him if possible. But sometimes, His plans are a little different than mine.
If you are married or have a significant other, then you are definitely familiar with the
“elbow nudge”. For example, you’re talking to someone you know, but your spouse doesn’t, and there it is – nudge, nudge. Dangit! I forgot to introduce her!
You are talking to her parents and crack an inappropriate joke (I have of course never done this). Nudge-nudge!! This one borders on painful. You know exactly what’s going through her mind. “What the heck are you thinking?!”
You always know what the nudge means, based on the context in which you receive the nudge.
That’s how it often is when the Lord wants me to do something. I might be at a restaurant with Nicole and I look over at a family that has young kids. They are obviously not doing well financially and are sharing a couple of meals between all five of them. Nudge-nudge. “Cover their meal. And while you’re at it, throw in a Cookie Monster desert for each of the kids. Oh, and by the way, make sure the waiter doesn’t let them know who did it.”
I am at a toll booth. Nudge-nudge. “Pay for the next car. You don’t know who it is, but I do. It will be more encouraging to them than you can imagine.”
I am talking with someone I barely know and he is telling me about some challenging issues he is currently facing. Nudge-nudge. “You need to pray for this man…out loud.”
I don’t know. Sometimes praying for someone else, out loud, is pretty awkward. I’ll just pray for him when I get home.
Well, there I was walking up to check out the Redbox movies and wouldn’t you know…nudge-nudge.
I tried to convince myself that it was the wind, or something else so I could ignore it.
Alright, I give!
I stopped resisting and simply said, “Hello. How are you?”
He paused and said he was doing okay. He didn’t ask for money, which I was anticipating. He just said he was trying to get moving on.
“Where do you want to go?” I asked.
He said he ultimately wanted to head towards Tulsa, but mentioned a McDonald’s next to a major truck stop on I-44. He figured that if he could get there, he could hitch a ride the rest of the way with a trucker.
Maybe you don’t know what it’s like to be “nudged” (or whatever you want to call it), but I know some people do. Either way, I knew what I was supposed to do. I am yet to regret obeying the nudge, but I have ignored it. Every time I ignore it, I wish I hadn’t.
“I’ll give you a ride.” I said, knowing it was a few miles out of my way.
He was very appreciative and climbed into the passenger seat of my Yukon. I don’t think I found a good movie and I can’t remember any cans of Monster rolling around in the back seat. However, I do remember him, and that’s a good sign of what was most important that evening.
We pulled out of the gas station, then took a right onto the on-ramp to I-44.
I love getting to know people and everybody likes to talk about themselves, so I simply asked him some questions. He talked about his transient life, the many places he’d been, and mentioned that he was a very good roofer…at least five times.
We neared the exit, went up the ramp and suddenly he said, “Slow down.” There was a girl on the side of the road holding a sign. David reached into his pocket and pulled out a huge wad of bills.
“Roll your window down, please.”
I did as I was asked and he handed her a few dollars.
“You don’t fly a sign unless things are really bad,” he said.
“Really bad?” I thought to myself. “You’re hanging out at a gas station, hoping to eventually hitch a ride to another state for no good reason. Everything in this world that you own you are currently wearing or it is in your pockets, and that’s not really bad?!”
I had been introduced to a homeless hierarchy of misfortune of which I was totally unaware, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. David had been in the same situation as that young lady, so he could empathize with her while I was still attempting to intellectually understand her situation.
David and I were miles apart in our ability to relate to someone “flying a sign” and that fact revealed a principle to me that I have since taught to many others. Sometimes the very thing we view as our greatest weakness provides us with our greatest (and often most unique) strength.
Were you at some point homeless and destitute? You are in a better position than anyone else to help someone who is currently in that situation.
Have you overcome breast cancer? Thousands would benefit from everything you learned during those trying times.
Are you single and broke? Your faith is going to be tested, but you are also not tied down to any particular location. You possess a freedom and agility that someone who is married with two children and a mortgage does not have.
We see David in the Old Testament as defenseless and weak, standing there looking pathetic with no armor to protect him. His perceived weakness allowed him to wield his sling and with pinpoint accuracy kill a giant 4 times his size without getting a single scratch.
I dropped David off at McDonald’s, he said thank you and shook my hand. No request for anything material at all; just appreciation.
There is no doubt who fared better in my few minutes with David. He got a ride, but I got a lesson I will never forget. That is how things tend to work in God’s economy. We do something in obedience to Him and He does more with it than we could have imagined.
It kind of reminds me of a guy who was willing to give up his lunch one hot afternoon….
“Did he care what people thought of him? Maybe. But not enough to keep him from doing what was right.”*
If your life is going to have a dramatic impact on others, on your community, or especially on your culture, you would want the same to be said of you.
There are crossroads that each of us will come to where we know what we should do, see that no one else is doing it, know people will think we are nuts, and have to decide if we are going to do it anyway.
The single factor that stops so many would-be great leaders is that they know others will think less of them. Then they stand down. They conform. They take the one thing that is truly unique about themselves and tuck it away on a shelf, because they know that it is so new and so unique that initially, people won’t know what to do with it. That makes people uncomfortable. When you make people uncomfortable they don’t like it and therefore don’t like you. Just ask Jesus.
How passionate are you about doing what you know to be right? Can you take the heat, the criticism, even the mockery? If you can, the sky’s the limit. You might very well be the one to revolutionize your industry, your ministry, your community, or even your family.
*This quote was said about Dr. Emil J. Freireich, a now renowned physician who risked everything from his reputation to his career to implement groundbreaking new practices in the treatment of childhood leukemia. You will be able to read his amazing story in my upcoming post.
Warning: this post may contain triggers for sexual abuse survivors.
You don’t expect a casual conversation to result in a call to the FBI. But there’s a first time for everything.
When I volunteer at Watered Gardens, I never know who is going to walk through the door. If I know them, they are typically moving forward in their life, have established better habits and are off of the street, like Linda. She’s a very kind black lady who spent years on hardcore drugs but has been clean for a long time.
But sometimes a new person comes in. He or she might be a transient, in Joplin for a bit before they move on. Other days, I get to visit with someone who barely has one foot out of hell. Something, or rather Someone is trying to drag him into a new life, and that’s why he’s here. Today was one of those “other days”.
When Latasha walked in, I could instantly tell she was sassy. She exuded personality. She was friendly, had a big smile on her face, and loved to talk. For the next hour I was going to be privileged to get a glimpse into a life very similar to Mary Magdalene’s, I just didn’t know it yet.
After a few minutes of small talk, Latasha started telling me her story. She held nothing back.
One thing I’ve learned is that everybody has a “rock bottom”; a place in life that makes someone so uncomfortable that they finally make major changes. But it’s not the same for any two people. Latasha’s rock bottom was the lowest I had ever witnessed; and she had hit it….hard. The amazing thing is that she lived to tell about it.
She was dropped off at Watered Gardens after detoxing at a facility a couple of hours away. She had checked in on her own. “You come here (to Watered Gardens) if you want to live,” she said. I could sense her determination to maintain a grasp on this different kind of life.
“What made you decide to leave?” I asked her.
“I could sense God pulling on me, and I was sick of living with my dope man. He made me watch nothing but porn and since I was always high, I was paranoid and wouldn’t go outside at all. I could barely bring myself to look out the window.”
A lot of people don’t realize that drugs like crystal meth literally open a door to the spiritual realm. Behind that door are the things that nightmares are made of.
She went on to describe the physical fights she would have with demonic forces when she was high. But when she wasn’t in that state, her “dope man” as she called him, wasn’t much better. In addition to pornography constantly streaming on the television, they fought all of the time. He was an active Satanist, a drug dealer and displayed all sorts of odd behaviors.
“He has computers all over the house! They’re wired up all strange and I can’t make sense out of it. He’s always switching out hard drives, too. He has like 75 of them!”
To Latasha, his actions weren’t something to make sense out of; they were just bizarre. But I was looking at the situation from a different perspective. I knew that there were only a few things sensitive enough to merit that type of behavior, and since his day job was laying tile, I knew he wasn’t dealing in top secret government documents. That left me with only one option that made sense.
“He produces child porn!” I said, as I tried to grasp just how evil this man was.
Latasha was shocked at what I said. But then I could see her start to think. She began remembering details that never made sense before.
“You’re right! That’s why he started telling me after I put my kids up for adoption that he was losing money on me.”
“He would get me stoned out of my mind, then he would disappear to this shed behind the house and lock himself in there for hours. He never would tell me what he was doing.”
“And then there were the screams…..”
She described times where she had heard the screams of children coming through the walls, but her intoxicated state and his dismissive comments made her push them to the back of her mind. But now, sober, out of his reach, and the recipient of a new life, she knew exactly what she had heard.
She shared more disturbing specifics, so I was pretty confident in my conclusion. Even if she wasn’t willing to do anything about her dope man, I was going to. I asked her some detailed questions about him and took notes, making sure I didn’t forget anything of importance.
She then started talking about her more distant past.
“My dad has always hated me. When I was two, he put me in the deep freeze. Later, when it became known that he had pointed a pistol at me and wanted to kill me, the state took me away. I spent the next 15 years in and out of foster care.”
Ministering to the broken is a constant reminder of just how blessed I have been. It also turns the phrase “There but for the grace of God, go I” into something far more than a cliche. Latasha’s father wanted to kill her. Mine helped coach my baseball team and took me fishing. Never for a second have I doubted my dad’s love for me. My daughter and she is three, and her name is Chandler. I call her my princess and tell her she is beautiful almost every day. Hearing about how her dad treated her made me sick to my stomach and furious at the same time.
Having no idea what being loved was like, in desperation, she reached out for a gross perversion of it and became a prostitute. My heart broke as I got a glimpse of what Jesus might have felt when the prostitute came and poured costly oil over his feet while others looked on in disgust. All they saw was her deplorable lifestyle. Jesus saw the pain….every bit of it; and loved her.
Latasha had recently experienced that same love, both from God Himself and the people at Watered Gardens That love saved her life. But more importantly, He saved her soul, and she could not stop thanking Jesus for it. Her desire to tell me her story was not to bring attention to herself. She was desperate to tell me what He had done in her life.
The last night with her dope man, things came to a brutal climax. Screams and curses filled the air. She grabbed a large butcher knife from the kitchen and held the tip firmly against her stomach.
As his hands grabbed on to the handle, she screamed at him, “If your devil is stronger than my God, then KILL ME!”
Hands tightened and fury filled the room. Her life could literally end any second, and she knew it. But she would rather die than continue this kind of life. And even though Latasha knew that he wanted to kill her, there was the feeling in the back of her mind that this battle between God and Satan had already been won long ago. And whether her dope man recognized the true Victor or not, he was powerless against the One who now claimed her as His own.
She left that night and checked into a drug rehab facility. After some time there, they asked her where she wanted to go. With no family to take good care of her, she chose Watered Gardens. The love the staff had showed her there was unlike anything she had ever experienced. They had been encouraging her in this odd new life, and she could not stop saying how thankful she was, both for them and to God. He had given her an opportunity to truly live for the first time.
Later that day, while at my office, I spent a half hour on the phone with an FBI investigator. I shared all of the details I had about her dope man: where he lived, his full name, his drug dealing, and my own conclusions. I had told Latasha that she needed to talk to the police, but since I wasn’t sure if she would follow through, I did all I could on my end. There was no way I was going to let that scum bag continue what he was doing if I had any chance of stopping it.
When I got off of the phone, it took me a few hours to calm down. Simply witnessing a life so intensely hellish had taken a toll on me; and Latasha had lived it for most of her life.
I came away from this experience knowing something first-hand that Christians who live more average lives often give lip-service to. No matter how far gone a life may appear to be, there is no such thing as a life that is out of God’s reach. He can rescue the most destitute. He can restore the most broken. He can redeem the most guilty.
Latasha’s life is proof of that, and that is why I am telling you about her. It is indeed something to be thankful for this Christmas season.
And thank you, Latasha, for entrusting me, a complete stranger, with your amazing story.
May God bless you in your new life.
*All of the details of this story are true. I have only changed the names of the individuals involved.
Two men, doing the same thing, at the same place and at the same time.
One of those men is perfectly content. Actually, he is more than content. He is enjoying himself thoroughly and could continue doing exactly what he is doing for hours.
The other man, however, does not look content at all. In fact, if you were to sneak up behind him and listen carefully, you would hear him mutter some very choice words in relation to his thoughts on his current task.
One is angry and being drained. The other has a big smile on his face and is being uplifted. The task is cutting thousands of feet of ribbon into one foot strips.
The only difference between the two men and what they are doing is the reason for which they are doing it.
That is the power of purpose.
This is not a fictitious scenario. I know, because I was the one who was smiling. The individual across from me was a man named Jared.
We were at a place called Watered Gardens Rescue Mission, where I volunteer and where the poor and homeless can come in and earn many of life’s necessities.
Jared was annoyed because he was not accustomed to having to work for what he receives. To him, spending 2 hours cutting ribbon was merely an obstacle between he and the 4 items of clothing he would receive at the end of those two hours.
To me, I was doing something of significance. Cutting the ribbon was incidental. I was helping others get their lives back on track. Teaching them how to become productive members of society. Some have no interest in learning or growing, but many are sick of the homeless life and are ready to move forward.
Those are the ones who transform something as monotonous as cutting ribbon into something that gives you genuine joy.
That is the power of purpose.
This scenario is no different than the everyday work place.You and I show up at work and go home that night either feeling empty and drained, or feeling like we have accomplished something of significance.
Purpose is the reason you are treated so differently at Chick Fil-A than you are at McDonalds. It is the reason flight attendants on Southwest Airlines make you laugh when they do the pre-flight demonstration and you pay attention. Whereas with every other airline, you do your best to tune them out.
Purpose has the power to transform a monotonous task like cutting ribbon into something fulfilling and enriching.
You, as a leader, have the power to create a sense of purpose for those you lead, just like the founders of the aforementioned companies have famously done.
There is fast food. Then there is Chick Fil-A. There are airlines. Then there is Southwest. What distinguishes these two businesses from every other one in their industry is the reason they do what they do.
I don’t always feel like hearing someone’s story. Sometimes I am busy.
Sometimes I have other things on my mind. But never did it cross my mind that if I don’t hear what he or she has to say right now, I will never get the chance again. Well…it does now.
I was in the Willard Learning Center at Watered Gardens, a place where I help teach people who have been through hell how to get back on their feet. Some are homeless and still active drug users; but others live here, which means they have taken some very significant steps forward. If you are a resident, you have to be sober and attend classes, such as the ones I teach.
I was testing out the new projector when Josie walked in to clean the desks. At Watered Gardens, if you want food, clothes, a shower, or anything else, you have to earn it. A strong work ethic is something they begin instilling in individuals the second they walk through the door.
The concept is sometimes shocking to people who have been living on government handouts for years, drinking and drugging away their days. Living on the streets or under bridges, many anxiously await the first of the month when Uncle Sam indiscriminately puts more money into their accounts. Recipients can get fifty cents cash for every dollar of food subsidies, and then it’s off to buy the drink or drug of his or her choice.
I introduced myself to Josie and could immediately tell that she was doing well. Clear eyes, coherent speech, and a sharp mind meant she had overcome many of the demons that drag others to the grave.
We began to dialogue and I asked her some benign questions: Where are you from? What brought you to Joplin, Missouri? etc. It didn’t take her long to sense my sincerity and then she started to tell me her story. Everyone who ends up on the streets has a story, and I am yet to hear a single one that begins in a happy, healthy home. Josie’s story was no exception.
“My mom died recently,” she told me. “Before they put the casket into the ground, I walked up to it with a black rose clasped behind my back. Then, with the preacher standing right beside me, I placed the rose on her casket and said, “I hope you rot in hell, you b—-.”
Josie then told me about her step-father who molested her from the time she was 2 until she was a teenager. Her mom would stand in the doorway and watch.
She started drinking at just 12 years of age to try to silence the pain. Running away multiple times proved fruitless. The police would always bring her right back to the people who were supposed to love her more than anyone else on the planet. But they didn’t love her. They violated her.
But her story didn’t end in disaster, as many do. She stopped drinking before it consumed her, which amazed her counselor. She was now in a relationship with a kind man and they were just about to get their own apartment, which is a major accomplishment for someone who has been homeless.
Watered Gardens had given her a safe place to earn life’s necessities and be around people who helped her to grow.
She then paid her boyfriend one of the most significant compliments I can imagine coming from a lady. “Even at 50 years old, he makes me feel pretty.”
I thanked her for sharing her story with me and asked if I could share it with others. I then asked her if I could be praying about anything specific for her. She told me she had a blood clot that her doctors were concerned about, then I gave her a hug and she left the classroom.
I saw her a week later at Watered Gardens, but for the next few weeks noticed that she wasn’t around. So many people who come here are transient, though, so you never know how long someone will be around.
About a month after I met Josie, I was walking up to the front door and passed Joshua, who was locking up his bike. Joshua is an incredibly nice guy and a regular at Watered Gardens. I have run into him other places as well, including a grocery store on the opposite side of town. He puts a lot of miles on those tires.
I stopped to ask him how he was doing.
“I’m just trying to make it, Brian. Life just knocked me down pretty hard.”
I told him I was sorry, then asked what had happened.
“My girlfriend died. We were only 3 days away from getting our own place. She died in her sleep…in my arms.”
His next four words broke my heart.
“Did you know Josie?”
Yes. Yes I did. But I had no idea the two people were connected. I was so glad that I had taken advantage of the only significant encounter I would ever have with her on this side of the grave. And it didn’t surprise me a bit that Joshua was the one about whom she had spoken so kindly.
He fought back the tears as he finished fastening his bike lock and I told him how sorry I was. I also told him how well she had spoken of him. I tried to offer him some comfort and walked on into the building, where every week I do my best to take time for Josie.
*For information on how you can make sure someone like Joshua or Josie has a safe and clean place to sleep at night, along with training and mentorship, please check out their “One Night” campaign with the link below. You can help sponsor the bed I chose (bed #1) for 1 night a month and have an enormous impact on somebody’s life. Feel free to contact me with any questions.