And because of His mercy we all have this ministry and we must not lose heart. But rather we must renounce negative and shameful ways; we should not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if the truth is hidden, it is veiled to those who live in the mind and not the heart. The worldly things have blinded the minds of those who do not believe so that they cannot see the light the glory who is the image of God. For what we say is not of ourselves, but of God. For God said, “Let light shine out of darkness, make his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in His face.

We all have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in us. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Therefore we must not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we can be renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that will far outweigh them all. So fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Pride, Men & God

If I remember correctly, I think my son Marc was around five years old when he started to understand the concept of Christmas – of course the concept at five is presents. And like most boys at that age, with the grasping of such great knowledge, independence is usually not far behind.  “I do it!” he yelled said as I tried to help him open one of his gifts. “I do it!” It was his gift and he was going to take care of it even if the task was going to take him an hour; he was determined to do it himself.

As Christian men, we can sometimes be like that: too proud and far too independent to ask for help.

Somewhere along the way we’ve developed the idea that it’s wrong to ask for help, that it’s something no real man should ever do. I watched the movies where the tough guys, the heroes always made their own way. They didn’t need anybody’s help, and even if the likes of Bruce Willis did have to bring help, they were a bunch of hard, macho types. He never had to humiliate himself and ask for help.

But we can’t live life that way. It’s impossible. It’s fiction. It’s difficult going our own way alone sometimes. We all get knocked down by life’s circumstances and it can be hard to get back up. If we don’t ask God for help, you don’t stand a chance.

Pride can be a funny thing. Psalm 10:4  tells us: “In his pride the wicked does not seek Him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.” The psalmist recognized this shortcoming in men thousands of years ago and I know it hasn’t gotten any better.

Jesus was different from us. He constantly sought his Father’s advice and direction. His character was flawless, free from the pride we display. Instead of trying to make it on his own, he depended heavily on the Father and the Holy Spirit.

If our pride isn’t bad enough, some of us can be quite stubborn and also slow learners. We refuse God’s help, mess things up, then a year or five years or ten years later we just repeat the same thing. It’s hard for us to overcome our pride and the innate need for independence.

How do we break this cycle? How do we get into the habit of asking God for help, not just in big things but every single day?

We have to come to terms with who we are. Every Christian man has enough failures in his past to remind him that going it alone simply doesn’t work. We shouldn’t be embarrassed by our failures; we should be embarrassed because we were too arrogant to ask and accept God’s help. But it’s never too late to remedy that.

We need to learn from other Christian men who have humbled themselves and who rely on God for help and direction each day. We can see the victories in their lives. We can marvel at their maturity, their calmness and their faith in a trustworthy God. Those same admirable qualities can become ours., too.

There’s hope for every one of us. We can live the life we’ve always dreamed of. Pride is a trait we can overcome, but first we need to start by asking God for help.

A few weeks ago I challenged a group of people in a leadership class to talk about their passion and vision.

Leaders: Don’t ever apologize for your passion or vision. That’s what inspires excellence in others and people are capable of it.

The impetus for this came from a class discussion on passion and the fact that some people are afraid or embarrassed to communicate that. But honestly, a good leader must do that in order to expect excellence from the people they lead. Usually it’s because they don’t want to appear to be demanding or demeaning. Apparently it’s an affront to expect a lot out of a person.

But it’s actually just the opposite. It honors them.

The highest compliment you can give to those you lead is to demand the best from them. Low standards do not communicate appreciation. They communicate contempt for someone’s ability and potential. Once you have stopped challenging someone to do more, you have stopped believing in them. And you have effectively stunted their ability to grow in their God-given gifts and calling.

It’s the responsibility of the leader not only to cast vision, but also to make sure that those serving under the vision are maximizing their gifts in support of it. An indispensable tool that every leader must learn to develop, then, is the ability to speak life into potential. Call it out. And the best way to call it out is by maintaining a high standard. People don’t grow by being allowed to live in mediocrity.

So, leaders: Don’t apologize for expecting excellence. You and or organization deserve it, and people are capable of it.

You’re not being demeaning by holding your people to a high standard. The real affront would be to allow someone to work at a level that doesn’t correspond to the potential for greatness that God has put in them.

Regardless of your station in life, both what you say and how you say it matters. It matters to an even greater degree for those in positions of leadership. Leaders don’t have the luxury of choosing their words in a cavalier fashion. Whether in written or oral form, your vocabulary matters. Few things make an impact, or lack thereof, like the words you allow to flow from your lips or from your keyboard. Even when you think they aren’t, people really are listening to what you say, reading what you write, and making important decisions about you based upon your choice of words.

As a leader, you cannot make the mistake of taking the importance of communication for granted. The ability to effectively communicate with others is often the difference between success and failure in any organization. Leaders should not build themselves into thinking their title, education, influence, or charisma can replace sound communication skills. While the other characteristics certainly don’t hurt, they can be quickly eroded and/or undermined by making poor choices in the words you use and the way you convey them.

Most problems in business could be eliminated through the use of direct, clear, and concise communication. Part of what makes a great communicator is not only possessing a great vocabulary but also knowing how and when to use it. Great orators have commanded the attention and respect of others since the dawn of time. They are rarely ignored or spoken over, but they are the individuals that tend to inspire, motivate, educate, influence, and lead those around them.

Think of those leaders whom you hold in high regard and admire, more often than not, they will have been gifted communicators. Rarely will the people that come to mind ever be described as having a poor command of language or limited vocabularies. But it is not about annunciation, presence, delivery, grammar, syntax, and the like, it is the more subtle elements of communication that separate the truly great communicators from those that bumble and stumble through their interactions with others. When you can understand and incorporate the following five elements into your interactions, you’ll have developed the communications savvy used by some of the world’s best communicators:

1. Is your communication consistent with your character?

Will your communication choices and words stand the test of time, or will they come back to haunt you? It is important to understand that words are not easily forgotten – they can leave a lasting and often indelible impression.

2. Is your communication consistent with your actions?

Nothing hurts a leader’s reputation faster than becoming known for being disingenuous. Do your words build bridges or burn them? Do your words instill confidence or destroy trust? If you say one thing yet do another, it won’t be long before you will lose the confidence of those around you.

3. Are your words intended to help or hinder?

Do they offer constructive criticism, or do they belittle and intimidate? Are your words benefiting others or just yourself? Are your words adding value or just adding to the noise? The goal of every interaction should be leaving others with the feeling that the time spent with you was beneficial to them. If you cannot espouse something helpful, then why say or write anything at all?

4. Does your communication leave room for others?

If your words overshadow or drown-out the words of others, you’ve simply wasted your breath. Remember that most people don’t want to be lectured and that it’s very difficult to learn anything when giving a monologue. However, great things tend to happen when engaged in meaningful dialogue.

5. Does your communication start conversations or end them?

The goal of any interaction is not to have the last word but rather to remain engaged in order to create the desired outcome. You don’t learn, inspire, motivate, influence, educate, or inform by shutting someone down.

Bottom line…The leadership lesson here is that whenever you have a message to communicate (either in written or verbal form), make sure that your message is well reasoned, authentic, specific, consistent, clear, and accurate. Spending a little extra time on the front-end of your message developing as an extension of yourself and your vision will likely save you from considerable aggravation on the back-end.

What is Christmas For?

We’ve all heard about how Christmas is difficult for so many people. That old story of Scrooge and his problems with this season are no longer anecdotal. It seems to be par for the course for a lot of people. Maybe it always has been. Maybe the joy of the season has always been a thorn in the side of those who can scarcely imagine joy.

I get it. I mean, it makes sense on some the level that Christmas has become a time in which there is a lot of heavily concentrated family time. The holidays can be tense in even the best of circumstances. Maneuvering through the landmines of various personalities can be hard even if there is no cancer, divorce, or an empty seat at the table. What makes it the most wonderful time of the year is also what makes it the most brutal time of the year. Our own family has not been immune to this.

But I think we have it all backwards. We have it sunk deep into our collective cultural consciousness that Christmas is just for the happy people. You know, those with perfect plastic family situations enjoyed around a crowded artificial tree. Christmas is for healthy people who laugh easily and at all the right times, right? The successful and the beautiful, who live in suburban bliss, can easily enjoy the holidays. They have not gotten lost on the way because of the GPS  in their BMW they got last year. They are beaming after watching a Christmas classic curled up on the couch as a family in front of their ginormous flat-screen. We live and act as if this is who should be enjoying Christmas.

But this is backwards. Christmas—the great story of the incarnation of the Son of God is for everyone, especially those who are in need of something better. Jesus was born as a baby to understand and sympathize with our weaknesses. Jesus was made to be like us so that in his resurrection we can be made like him; free from the fear of death and the pain of loss. Jesus’ first recorded worshipers were not the suburban beautiful class. They were poor, tired shepherds, beat down by life and labour. They had been looked down on by so many.

Jesus came for those who look in the mirror and see ugliness. Jesus came for daughters whose fathers never told them they were beautiful. Christmas is for those who go to “wing night” alone. Christmas is for those whose lives have been wrecked by cancer, and the thought of another Christmas seems like an impossible dream. Christmas is for those who would be nothing but lonely if not for Facebook. Christmas is for those whose marriages have been slammed against the wall and are threatening to never come back. Christmas is for the son whose absent father never shows up. Christmas is for prostitutes, the homeless, the adulterers, and addicts who long for love in all the wrong places. Christmas is for college students who are sitting in the midst of the family and already cannot wait to get out for another drink. Christmas is for those who traffic in failed dreams. Christmas is for those who have never treasured a the family name and fortune and want just want “home” but cannot find it. Christmas is for parents watching their children’s marriage fall into disarray. Christmas is for the father who misses his children and his wife.

Christmas is really all about the gospel of grace and hope. Because of all that Christ has done on the cross, that tiny, dirty manger becomes the most hopeful place in a universe darkened with hopelessness. In the irony of all ironies, Christmas is for those who will find it the hardest to enjoy. It really is for those who fear it the most.

Shops in Michigan, Iowa, Nebraska and California have all reported random acts of kindness from individuals coming in to pay off the balance on layaway items.

One such mystery man guaranteed a Merry Christmas for dozens of poor families in Missoula, Michigan after he walked into a shop and spent more than $1000 paying off total strangers’ layaway items.

The layaway department at the Missoula Kmart was full of items that were unlikely to be given as presents this year, because their would-be buyers were late with their payments.

That’s until the generous Secret Santa dropped in on Tuesday afternoon and anonymously paid down the balance on dozens of gifts.

Brenda Warren, a worker at the Missoula Kmart’s layaway department, told KPAX News: ‘He walked in and wanted to pay on some lay-aways and I asked him, “which ones?”

“He said some that weren’t going to have Christmas and were late on their payment. I’m like, “really? I thought maybe he’d just pay off one or two, but then he ended up paying the whole list, so it was just amazing.”

To her delight, Ms Warren then had the task of calling all the customers whose presents were waiting in the shop. She told KPAX that most were excited, some shocked, and one man incredulous to the point that he actually hung up the phone on her.

It is just the latest in a spate of copycat Secret Santas to have struck across the U.S. and Canada as economic problems risk making this Christmas on of the least cheerful in a generation.

Mary Chapin, who had her $180 layaway ticket paid off in Michigan, told Deseret News yesterday that the anonymous donation had ‘restored her faith in people’.

The money bought toys for her 12-year-old son.

Missoula Kmart’s mystery man told Ms Warren he was visiting from Michigan, where had made a similar stop at the Kmart there. “He doesn’t have any family, he said, and playing Santa makes his Christmas.”

Never Doubt

There is never a time when He is not speaking to us. There is never a place where He is not present. There is never a room so dark that the ever present, ever pursuing One is not there tapping on the door of our hearts.

“Surely I am with you always, to the end of age.”

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

And its not explosions the of lights and not even the lightening bolts. Its just gentle light. A soft glow that brings hope into darkness.

And because we sometimes look for those loud explosions or the massive bonfire, we miss the candle. And because we spend our precious time listening for the shout, we miss the whisper.

But it is in burnished candles that God speaks. Through whispered promises, the warm embrace of a true friend or the touch of another’s kindness is where He truly speaks.

“When you doubt, look around; for I am closer than you think.”

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