Tar Babies

The old American folktale of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox tells of how Brer Fox once tricked Brer Rabbit by making a doll made of tar. As Rabbit bounced by to speak to the tar baby, he was aggravated by how the doll never spoke back. As a result, he ends up punching the doll and getting all entangled and trapped in the tar – just as Brer Fox had hoped he would. Likewise, there are many “traps” out there set to get us stuck:

Fears: Who hasn’t had to deal with fears? Either fear of rejection, circumstances, situations and countless other justifiable reasons. However, as Christians we are consistently assured there is no need for fear and that we are to be courageous (Isaiah 41:10). Thankfully, by God’s grace, there can be no courage if it weren’t for the existence of fear. So, he knows our temptation to fear and promises in spite of its reality, He is even more powerful to enable us to overcome all our fears.

Doubts: We doubt often times due to a lack of trust. However, God has never and will never turn away from His promises, for He declares He will never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). When we take Him up on this promise, we realize we never had any reason to doubt in the first place. It’s the first step of faith to trust without seeing and in that trust, we are blessed. 

Greeds: We can all struggle from time to time with wanting more, and that’s not necessarily bad. For we may want more faith, more wisdom, more opportunity and more hope. However, it’s when our wants turn to selfish motives that we get tripped up (Matthew 23:12). However, a spirit of humility defuses greed because as CS Lewis once said, “Humility is not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourself less”. Therefore, it’s a difficult thing to be humble and greedy at the same time. 

Application: “Cling Free” – Galatians 5:1
Perhaps this world and our enemy has tar babies set up all over to catch us up in their trap. However, in Christ, we don’t have to be lured in. Instead, we have been set free from such entanglements to live life abundantly in Christ and for Christ. So, next time we see the trapping of fear, doubt and greed pass our way, let us rely on the promises of our Lord and pass them by with an attitude of gratitude for Him making us all the wiser and freer.

Effective Leadership Excels In Others  

There are various styles, and interpretations of leadership, and I do not claim to be an authority on the subject, but merely a student. For it seems the learning and areas to improve are never ending – and that’s a good thing. I have however, enjoyed the experiences of watching and learning from the differing styles of leadership I have had in both corporate America, the church and small business; and I have been able to glean that the best leaders seem to have an ability to address and impact key three areas:  

Elevation: To elevate someone isn’t necessarily promoting them, more than it is having the desire and ability to develop them. Truly impactful leaders look for opportunities to develop the people under their authority. They seek to build relationships with their team, identify their strengths and areas for improvement and then take action to elevate their people through intentional training, coaching and development (Titus 2:7-8). The best leaders resemble  caring parents who don’t leave their childrens learning to happen stance. Instead, they seek to provide quality education, mentorship and support to ensure they mature well. Likewise, leaders care to get involved and develop their teams.

Encouragement: Without encouragement, we are left with assumptions. These might be correct, or incorrect ideas we have about our job performance and the quality of our work. However, with feedback, whether it is corrective, instructive, or reassuring, it can always be delivered in an encouraging way that helps everyone gain clarity in knowing where they stand in the mind of the leader (Ephesians 4:29). This is a powerful gift leaders have and can choose to give. If a leader rarely communicates with their people, they unknowingly create instability within their teams. For their people never truly know where they stand, which can lead to developmental stagnation within an organization. However, with feedback unified with encouragement, team members receive the opportunity to change and improve, thus affecting their overall performance and confidence. As a result, this has a multiplying impact on a team’s overall success. 

Elimination: It is easy for a leader to be sucked into the “ivory tower” syndrome. This is when they lose connectivity with the front line and begin making changes and developing strategies in a vacuum with other internalized leaders. However, the most effective leaders, never lose touch with the front line and realize their success and the organizations success is directly tied to the ones engaging with the clients, making the sales and delivering the service. Therefore, effective leaders invite feedback, ideas and suggestions from their teams and never forget, that one of their primary roles is to eliminate problems for their teams and remove stumbling blocks so that their teams can be most effective. The team isn’t there to serve the leader as much as the leader is there to serve their team (Acts 20:35).

Application: “Transforming Me to We” – Philippians 2:3  
Martin Luther King, Jr., a great role model in effective leadership, once said, “Anyone can be great because anyone can serve“. When leaders break from thinking it’s all about the me, and begin to embrace their true value in making it all about the we, then their teams begin to be transformed one person at a time; and as teams transform, organizations transform and when organizations unite in their ability to serve, even communities can be transformed – and that’s a business model anyone can be proud to be a part of!

Ruthlessly Eliminating Hurry

I heard a story of a pastor who was experiencing tremendous church growth. However, the pastor realized the joy of this blessing could be stolen if not stewarded well. So, to help ensure he was doing all he could to be a good steward of God’s church and the growth He was sending, he called an old mentor for advice. After sharing his situation, the young pastor waited anxiously for his mentor’s reply. The response however was not what he expected. “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life,” was the counsel offered. The pastor nodded in agreement and waiting expectantly for the more weightier advice he was sure would come, but that was it.

Like the young pastor, we may at first brush aside the weight of this particular counsel, but when we examine the damage hurry has and can have in our life, we realize the value eliminating it holds in our overall success:

Error: When we get in a hurry and rush, we are more prone to make mistakes (Proverbs 19:2). How often has this proved true for each of us? A small example to this is when I get in the kitchen to cook. I’m not sure why, but for some reason, cooking gets me in a rush. I race in prepping each dish and timing it so that each course finishes on time. Inevitably, as I rush, I forget some ingredient, burn something, or don’t cook something else long enough. In time, I have realized my folly and I now literally work to slow myself down. I noticed my daughter shares this trait and I have shared with her the wisdom of slowing down. This is something we can all apply in every area of our life, not just cooking, and as a result we greatly reduce our risk of error.   

Image: When we get in a hurry we reduce our image, or level of professionalism. For example, we may trick ourselves into thinking a jam packed work schedule shows how important, or busy we are, but in reality it can backfire. For having too many appointments scheduled back to back can cause us to rush through the appointments we have in order to race to our other meetings in an anxious state. We also risk being late, and ultimately, this type of hurry prevents us from ever truly reflecting a calm and relaxed demeanor. As a result, we reduce our impact with those we are meeting for we never truly allowed ourselves to allocate our full energy and commitment to the topics at hand because we were always watching the clock and racing around town. Instead, allocating plenty of spacing between appointments helps us not to rush, to offer higher value in the moments we have, and to maintain a relaxed state of mind – which always enhances our overall impact and professional image (Proverbs 22:1).

Energy: When we hurry, we clearly exhaust energy. However, unlike exercise, which helps us release stress, this type of energy exertion leaves us stressed (Psalm 127:2). However, by eliminating hurry, we actually reduce our stress, which allows us to have more energy to increase our contribution in the various events we have throughout our day. As a result, we better impact the people we interact with and come home more energized than drained.

Application: “Unhindered” – Ephesians 5:15
We are often lured into the trappings of hurry, but like anything else, we can make improvements when we commit to do so. The first step is acknowledging our tendency to hurry and identifying when we are most prone to succumb to it. We must then proactively work to eliminate it through intentional planning and prioritization. As a result, we will discover more energy, make less mistakes, obtain higher levels of presentation, and reap the other various rewards and benefits that come to those committed to stamping out the hindrance of hurry. Most importantly, what better mentor could we have than Jesus. He had the most purposeful and valuable life missions of all, yet was never in a hurry. Therefore, as His followers, I believe through Him we can learn to share in this beneficial method.

Money Talks

We all have songs that seem to capture moments and themes in our lives. For me and my wife, Forever In Blue Jeans by Neil Diamond is one of those songs. For those who have never heard it, it references how money definitely talks. It has value, but ultimately, it can’t sing and dance – meaning it’s not alive and it’s not as valuable as sharing a life with someone you love. I work in the world of finance and have struggled personally with finding work life balance, with wanting more; but as I walk with God, He continues to teach me more and more, the value and power of contentment, gratitude and loving relationships. Those things money can never buy:

Loving: When we realize the tremendous value of genuine love, we realize how blessed we truly are to have it. Money may bring associates and fare weather friends, but true love is never based on money (1 Corinthians 13:3). Some of the most memorable times my wife and I share are when we simply went out for ice cream because our budget didn’t allow for a nice dinner – and at that time, it didn’t matter. We still laughed, we still smiled, we still loved. For love isn’t based on money in the slightest, and the power of seeing that when we have a little, or a lot, is priceless.

Laughing: When is the last time you had a really good belly laugh? The kind of laugh that brings tears to your eyes and you can’t even breathe. Those are great aren’t they? They seem to come when we quit worrying and fretting over what we don’t have, or over particular situations that may be going on around us. They seem to come when we are at peace, relaxed, and with company we enjoy and trust (Psalm 4:7). It’s a time of vulnerability and connection. Sure, we can pay money to see a good comedian, or movie and laugh, but there’s something different and special when it comes from those special moments shared with a friend.  

Living: As stated earlier, money isn’t alive, but it sure does have an impact on us as if it were. Sadly, many make it their ultimate goal in life. They live and die for it. They mistakenly assume their self worth is based on their net worth. They long for it, stress over it, and obsess over it. However, when we step back from this deceit, we realize how empty this type of life is. For money comes and goes. True life is experienced when it is lived out. Poured out. It comes from Christ and living with a perspective beyond the accumulation of money. It’s engaging the ups and downs of life in faith, investing in others, loving others, serving others and enjoying the adventures God sets before us – as we prioritize His purposes over our own (John 10:10).

Application: “Forever In Blue Jeans” – Luke 9:25  
Wealth is actually defined as an abundant supply of a desirable thing. However, we often limit it to just money. But, what are the other things we desire? Clearly, a loving family, good health, nurturing relationships and a growing faith would rank among them. So, what if we have these things, but never possess millions in the bank – does this mean we aren’t rich? I would argue otherwise.  In reality, it makes one richer than most. 

Battle Grounds

There are no shortage of battles we face in life. However, the Bible teaches us that even though we will face hard times and struggles, we needn’t fret, or worry, for the ultimate battle has already been won by Christ. Therefore, could it be that each battle we face is allowed by a holy God and good Father to ultimately benefit us as His children?

Attacks: When we get attacked, these are the unprovoked assaults that come our way – either physical, emotional, or spiritual. At times, these attacks can cause us to question and even doubt God’s goodness. However, as we know, we live in a fallen world and bad things happen. The hope we have is that if God allows these things, He can also use and turn them for the good of His children (1 Peter 1:6-7). Clearly, this is easy to say, but in reality, how can some of these attacks ever be used good? This is when we look to the cross and consider how the brutality, injustice, and cruelty Christ endured on earth. For if God can turn these events into the greatest good ever known, God can use our attacks as well. 

Attitudes: Some of the greatest battles we ever fight come from within. Our attitudes have a tremendous impact on how we engage the world and live our lives (Proverbs 17:22).  When we trust God and believe He loves us and has plans and purposes for us, we are naturally more optimistic and positive, despite our circumstances and challenges. However, when we allow ourselves to embrace discontentment, discouragement and discord, we naturally succumb to life’s struggles as merely added burdens without any hope, or benefit.   

Adversaries: Jesus was the only perfect person to ever live and even He had opposition. So, it stands to reason, each of us will have our fair share of adversaries too. However, how we engage these conflicts greatly determines our outcome. We are instructed to pursue peace as best we can, to pray for our enemies, and to not worry, but cast all our cares upon God and seek His guidance and direction (Psalm 55:22). We may not enjoy the conflicts we find ourselves in, but maintaining discernment and wisdom during these stressful situations is paramount. For in the end, our faith is strengthened as we rediscover just how reliable and trustworthy God is.

Application: “Blurred Lines” – Mark 8:24-25
During this life, we can’t see the full picture. Instead, our vision is clouded. However, the more we walk with Christ, the clearer our vision becomes. Just like when we get our eyes checked, we are asked to read numbers on a wall and look through a machine that makes them cloudy and clear. As we walk with Christ, He sharpens our vision and we are able to see the attacks, our adversaries, and our attitudes through His perspective and become stronger spiritual warriors in the process.

Preserve A Reserve

I have known and seen many millionaires who didn’t have enough cash upon their death to even pay for their own funeral expenses. How can this be? The fact is, many privately held businesses can run into this problem for all their money is put back into the business and ownership is held privately, which means any stock does not trade publicly and isn’t easily sold. In addition, other millionaires may own significant levels of real estate whether it be farm land, raw land, commercial, or residential property. The value of this real estate may be worth millions, but they may also have significant levels of debt, or high monthly payments leaving them little to no equity, or cash reserves. This is the difference between liquid assets and nonliquid. If too much value is placed in nonliquid assets, the result can create this interesting paradox of being a cash broke millionaire. 

The problems these individuals eventually face may not be immediately obvious for while the person is alive, cash flow is often being generated to pay their bills. However, what happens when the primary owner dies, or becomes incapacitated? The result can be disheartening. For property may have to be sold, families are sent scrambling in an attempt to pay for basic needs and many times fruitful businesses and farms can fail. Granted, people in these situations have done well and are in fact millionaires. However, they place themselves often unknowingly in very risky situations by having most, or all of their assets illiquid. The solution to this problem is quite simple and valuable for all to learn, even if you’re not a millionaire, because the following stewardship model is beneficial to anyone seeking to be stronger stewards with what they have:  

Diversification: When we diversify our ownership, it basically means we don’t put all our eggs in one basket (James 4:14). Instead, we own various assets, some liquid and some may be nonliquid. Mutual funds allow for ownership in various stocks, farmers may plant various type crops, rent their land and/or incorporate livestock. Businesses can seek to spread their profits in other areas outside of their business, like retirement plans- even if the sale of their business is their retirement plan. There are many ways to diversify, including holding cash reserves for emergencies that is large enough to cover at least 6 months living expenses.   

Liquidity: By having liquid assets, such as equities, cash savings and other easily accessible sources of cash, we safeguard ourselves from the cash-broke scenario. We also provide peace of mind for ourselves and our loved ones by engaging the wisdom planning ahead offers (Proverbs 24:27). Effective planning with qualified advisors can help those with too many illiquid assets create the right amount of liquidity that will be needed eventually. 

Protection: We serve to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our businesses when we proactively plan the best we can for those foreseen and unforeseen circumstances that undoubtedly come in life (Proverbs 27:23). Obviously, diversification and liquidity help, but so can insurance, trusts, medical directives and wills. These basic tools don’t have to be expensive, but the protection they provide and the peace of mind they offer our loved ones are priceless. For they will know what to do and where to go and have the funds available to provide in those times of emergency and loss.  

Application: “Spread Your Bread” –Ecclesiastes 11:1   

It is easy to put all your eggs in one basket, not save and not engage financial planning. Thus, this is why so many of us fail to do any of these things, even when we know better. However, the rewards and benefits of establishing a plan, saving, investing, diversifying and protecting are priceless and never regretted. Although, it does require work, discipline, patience, proactivity and perseverance. So, whether we become millionaires or not, we don’t have to be broke because we failed to plan. 

Marriage Bliss?

I remember reading a quote by a pastor who said, marriage isn’t so much designed to make us happy, but to help make us holy. Likewise, God is more concerned with our holiness than our happiness. For happiness comes and goes and is based on what is happening around us and to us. However, holiness is based on what is happening inside us. Holiness involves our heart condition and allows us to experience joy through the Spirit despite our happenstances. 

Of course, this sanctification process is rarely without its struggles and neither will our marriages be free from struggle – but thankfully, they are also embedded with great blessings:    

Purpose: For the longest time, I didn’t realize my marriage had a purpose, other than to contribute to my happiness. This outlook however is a trap that eventually leads to discouragement and disatisfaction. The reality is a holy marriage is designed with divine purpose. Two people surrendered to God are a powerful team and witness. They are a representation of the Trinity, are called to raise Godly children, and help each other learn to love more like Christ loves (Malachi 2:15). 

Pleasure: Although not solely for our happiness, marriage does come with great pleasures and rewards. We are even instructed to enjoy one another as a gift from God (Ecclesiastes 9:9). Over time, our Kingdom value and impact increases as we grow closer as friends, as allies, as lovers and as soldiers in Christ. I recall traveling on business trips to exotic locations and staying at lavish resorts, wishing my family could be there to share it with me. Today, as we walk with God, we share in something much better than resorts – we get His glorious riches and get to experience life’s adventures together, instead of alone.

Prosperity: Blessings from God flow to Godly marriages, and finding a good wife is said to be like finding treasure and receiving favor from the Lord (Proverbs 18:22)! For true prosperity flows from living for the Lord.  I once lived to be monetarily rich, but today, I am thankful and blessed to know where true riches are found – in the love of Christ and the love I get to share with my wife, a glorious gift indeed!

Application: “Kingdom Wisdom”  – Ecclesiastes 4:12

Marriage isn’t always easy, and it isn’t designed to be. When two imperfect people come together, there is bound to be an imperfect marriage. However, when both parties are surrendered to Christ, He can blend and bind our differences and potential divisions to work for His good purposes, glory and our purification. Marriage over time doesn’t have to grow old and stale. Instead, it can grow stronger and better. Something enjoyable and something that abounds in love.