Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Think Big: The End Goal

I've been slowly making my way through Think Big: Unleashing Your Potential for Excellence by Dr. Ben Carson the past few weeks.  The first half of the book is largely biographical and details Ben's childhood and much of his medical career.  He places a lot of focus on the mentors in his life.  One of his stories in particular has left me with much to think about.

In high school, he had a band teacher, Mr. Doakes, who always pushed his students to give their best and perfect every piece of music they played.  Although Ben always appreciated this teacher and his confidence in his class, other students didn't and even referred to him as a slave driver.  In time, with Mr. Doakes' instruction and encouragement, Ben rose to the top of the class, just like in every other class.

One day, the teacher announced that four students in the class were eligible to audition for a prestigious summer music camp scholarship.  This was a camp that would provide gifted students with heavy-duty instruction and the opportunity of traveling the country and performing under famous directors.  Any student's acceptance into this program also reflected very favourably on his or her band teacher.

Of course, Ben asked Mr. Doakes if he though he was good enough.  Mr. Doakes assured Ben of his confidence that he could win this scholarship.  But when Ben asked if he would recommend him, he said "No."  You see, this teacher knew how well Ben was doing in his academic work and that he wanted to be a doctor.  He knew that the intense music camp would not allow Ben to focus on his other work.  Somewhere down the road, Ben had to make a choice between either music and science/medicine.  Knowing his heart was to be a doctor, the teacher said "No".

As we can imagine, Ben was very disappointed by this.  But walking away, he realized his teacher had done the most caring thing for him.  Mr. Doakes knew Ben's potential and his gift in music, but he also knew that this intense program would require a lot of time and energy and pursuing music to this degree would take away from his ultimate goal of being a doctor.  Although the teacher could have advanced himself through Ben, he was unselfish and told Ben "No", ultimately having his best interest in mind.  As it turns out, Ben's wife received a scholarship to this music camp while she was in high school.

You can gather many things from this story, such as the importance of mentoring and guiding a young person to make right decisions, even when they won't want to hear it.  But what struck me was just the fact that this teacher would not allow Ben to pursue something that would distract from his ultimate goal.  It reminded me of a conversation I had with a mentor several months back.  He basically said that if something does not allow me to fulfill my purpose, then I shouldn't spend time doing it.  That was hard for me to digest.  That meant having to cut some activities out of my life that I liked.

I have a confession to make.  I excel at wasting time and surrounding myself with distractions.  And I don't even have a personal cell phone!  I can procrastinate and avoid tasks I don't like by coming up with a ton of good "reasons" why today is not a good day.  And if I know I really have to do something, I'll do anything to delay, even if it means checking my facebook like ten times even though I know there's nothing new there.  Yeah, it's bad.

If you consider it honestly, very few people in our culture have a clear vision or purpose for their life.  And for the few that do, there are a host of potential distractions to take away from them fulfilling that purpose.  I'm facing that challenge.  It's not that I don't know where I want to go or what I want to do.  But somehow, what should be my free time to pursue those things get filled with an abundance of trivial, unimportant time-wasters and I feel like I have no time. 

There's so many things that can take away from our goals and our relationship with God.  Sometimes the decisions we have to make are hard.  Like Ben, there are things we enjoy and are very talented in, but since they don't contribute to our end goals, then often we have to let go of them to a degree.  It usually doesn't mean that we have to forsake them completely, but we do have to limit the amount of our time and energy they consume.

What is your vision?  Have you identified your purpose or your life goals?  Whether they are spiritual, family, educational or career ambitions, are you pursuing them fully? Or are you letting other trivial things stand in the way?  Sometimes, we have to sacrifice even the things we hold close to us if they don't lead us closer to God and the vision He has given us.  But in the end, I believe we will look back and see that it's worth it.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

God Loves Broken People by Sheila Walsh

In God Loves Broken People, Sheila Walsh examines what brokenness is, the painful wounds people experience, and the fierce love God has for us.  She also explains how our brokenness can enable us to serve and reach out to others.   She uses a lot of stories, scriptures, quotes and a Bible study is included in the back of the book.

Something I like about this book is that Sheila understands what pain and brokenness is from personal experience and she's real about it.  She doesn't sugar-coat suffering, suggest the reader should just "suck-it-up", or imply that the reader lacks faith.  She doesn't offer answers to life's tough questions, but she understands the depth of pain and darkness that exists in the world and doesn't undermine it.  The stories and quotes she used gave it variety and I enjoyed it, but at times, it felt as if she borrowed a little too much other material.

Although I liked this book, I couldn't relate to the depth of pain often described.  I discovered how blessed I am in many ways!  To those who have experienced pain and suffering in their lives or are going through a dark time, I would definitely recommend this book.  If life has handed you sunshine and roses, you may still enjoy it, just not be able to relate to it as well.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through and was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Giving God Your Dreams

Your dreams are safest in God's hands.  Do you believe that?

I've wrestled through the issue of dreams a lot the past month.  Somehow mine never seem to come true while everyone else's do.  Since when was that fair?

As I've evaluated my life, I noticed again how hard it is for me to surrender my dreams to God and then leave them in His hands.  I really want something, but when I resign myself to the fact that it won't happen, I let my dream fall to the ground, watch it get trampled and die.  Or so I think.

I often think I have let go of dreams, gotten over my disappointments and moved on with my life.  That is, until those dreams are realized in someone else's life.  Then those desires return and I become jealous and sometimes depressed or angry.  There's a child inside of me that stomps and screams "But those were MY dreams!"  (That child doesn't like to share either.)

In the past six months, I have seen or am seeing several of my dreams realized by other people, and many of them are younger than me.  It makes me wonder why.  Why them and not me?  They were all good dreams and I have prayed over every one of them.  So far to each of these, God has said "No" or "Not yet" to me and "Yes" to them.  At times I can't understand why.

I heard someone say once that we should give our dreams to God and let Him give them back to us.  In a sense, our dreams are safest in God's hands.  That's a hard thing to do.  It's hard giving your dreams to God, not knowing when or if you'll ever see them again, not knowing if they'll come true.  But I do believe that's what God wants us to do.  He knows the deepest desires of our hearts better than anyone else.  I've had to give dreams and plans to God not knowing if or how He will give them back to me.  Although I can't always see it, I do have to trust that His plans for my life are best.

In writing this, God brought me to Leslie Ludy's song "Far Beyond".  Although this song is written in the context of romantic dreams, I believe her words can be applied to all of our dreams.  Here's a portion of her lyrics, the rest of which can be seen under the Youtube video I linked to.

Far beyond my deepest heart's desire
Far beyond what I could ever dream
Far beyond my fairy tale imaginations
Is Your perfect plan for me
There's no limit to romance in all its beauty
When the author of love shapes my destiny
Far beyond the most that I could long for
I will find the dreams You have dreamed for me.

I could search forever
I could look for true love everywhere
If all my dreams were answered
They still could not compare
To the beauty of Your ways
And all Your plans for my life
Cause You've been scripting out a story for me
Before the very foundations of time.

Do you believe that? Are you willing to trust that God's dreams for you are the best?  I'll be the first to admit it's hard to do.  They may not seem to be what we're hoping for at the time, but He's painting on a far greater canvas than we can see, and if we trust Him, He promises the end result will be beautiful.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Make it Go Away!

Some readers might think that in light of my last post, this one is out of place.  I was just writing about overcoming sin and now I'm diving into temptation.  Huh?  But I believe it's needful that the two go hand in hand.

Do you think there will ever be a time in your life as a Christian that you will not face temptation?

I said the same thing you probably did.  "I wish!"  Wouldn't life and godliness be so much easier?  (By the way, the Bible says we already have everything we need for that.)  But when I look at scripture, I know that it will never happen and Jesus even said that temptation is needful.  I also see that Jesus faced all the same temptations we do, so why should we be exempt?

When people talk about Jesus being tempted, probably the most referenced passage is Luke 4:1-13.  But it seems sometimes that when I (or others) read this passage, a few details tend to get overlooked.  Here Jesus spent forty days fasting and praying in the wilderness and was tempted by the devil.  Verse 13 says "And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time."  The KJV says "he departed from him for a season."

I see a few important things here.  First of all, it seems that there was a lot more temptation going on during this event than was actually recorded.  And my guess is, if Satan is going to try to get the Son of God to sin, the one man who is out to redeem the world from Satan's evil grip and the curse of sin, he's not going to give up after three attempts.  There was possibly a more intense battle going on here than we read about, and it didn't end here.  Which leads to my second point.  Satan only left Jesus until he had a better opportunity.  We really don't know how much temptation Jesus actually faced in His lifetime, but He too had to face it on an ongoing basis.  And lastly, Jesus went into the wilderness after His baptism being filled with Holy Spirit, and in verse 14 it says that He returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.  He went through it all in the power of the Spirit.

You see, sometimes we want to whine and plead with God to just make all this temptation go away and thus end our struggle with sin.  But the fact is, as long as we're living in the flesh and this fallen world, it's just going to happen.  We can't make it go away.  But Galatians 5:16 clearly tells us that if we walk in the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.  Through the Spirit's power, we can stand against temptation.

One of the things I find temptation does is keep me humble and I dare say that's a good thing.  I can easily become puffed up thinking I'm more righteous than the next person.  But when I come face to face with hard temptation, I am reminded of my great need for God's grace and that I have to rely on His power to overcome sin.  It reminds me that He is the one who makes me worthy of being His child, because in this flesh, I have no worth of my own.

Yes, temptation will come, but it doesn't mean defeat.  If we yield ourselves to the Spirit of God, we can be overcomers.