Tuesday, July 29, 2008

4 Lessons Learned from a Talking Donkey

In the Old Testament we find the story of Balaam, his donkey and the angel of the Lord. “Balaam was riding his donkey to Moab, and two of his servants were with him. But God was angry that Balaam had gone, so one of the LORD’s angels stood in the road to stop him. When Balaam's donkey saw the angel standing there with a sword, it walked off the road and into an open field. Balaam had to beat the donkey to get it back on the road. Then the angel stood between two vineyards, in a narrow path with a stone wall on each side. When the donkey saw the angel, it walked so close to one of the walls that Balaam's foot scraped against the wall. Balaam beat the donkey again. The angel moved once more and stood in a spot so narrow that there was no room for the donkey to go around. So it just lay down. Balaam lost his temper, then picked up a stick and smacked the donkey.
When that happened, the LORD told the donkey to speak, and it asked Balaam, “What have I done to you that made you beat me three times?”
“You made me look stupid!" Balaam answered. “If I had a sword, I'd kill you here and now!”
“But you’re my owner,” replied the donkey, “and you've ridden me many times. Have I ever done anything like this before?”
“No,” Balaam admitted.
Just then, the LORD let Balaam see the angel standing in the road, holding a sword, and Balaam bowed down.
The angel said, “You had no right to treat your donkey like that! I was the one who blocked your way, because I don’t think you should go to Moab. If your donkey had not seen me and stopped those three times, I would have killed you and let the donkey live.”
Balaam replied, “I was wrong. I didn't know you were trying to stop me. If you don't think I should go, I'll return home right now.” (Numbers 22:22-34, Contemporary English Version)

There are four extremely valuable lessons we can learn from this story

Lesson 1: You must learn to effectively receive criticism and correction.

The Bible states, “You can trust a friend who corrects you, but kisses from an enemy are nothing but lies. (Proverbs 27:6, Contemporary English Version) A true friend will tell us when we are off course or need correction even though it is not what we want to hear. Their love and concern for our well-being will supercede the natural desire to avoid the conflict or ignore the issue. As states the Sicilian Proverb, “Only your real friends will tell you when your face is dirty.”

The Lord will correct us when we get off course. The apostle Paul wrote, “. . . God disciplines us for our good . . .” (Hebrews 12:10, New International Version) “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves. . .” (Hebrews 12:6, English Standard Version) Discipline and correction help us get back on track when we have strayed. The quicker we can recognize we are wrong the more quickly we can get on the right path. A Wal-Mart executive said of Sam Walton, “He is less afraid of being wrong than anyone I’ve ever known. And once he sees he’s wrong, he just shakes it off and heads in another direction.”

These proverbs can help us remember Lesson 1:
“Despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction.”
-Proverbs 3:11, King James Version

“Stern discipline awaits him who leaves the path; he who hates correction will die.”
-Proverbs 15:10, New International Version

“Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.”
- Proverbs 19:20, New International Version

Lesson 2: Some things that you believe are bad and harmful to you are actually for your good.

When bad things occur in our life, there is a natural tenancy to get upset and metaphorically hit a donkey. However, our challenges and struggles enable us to learn and grow. If our afflictions could speak to us as did Balaam’s donkey they may have a similar message saying, “Why are you getting mad at me, I am just trying to help you.” We must learn that all of our afflictions will work together for our good.

Since the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden, the earth has been filled with thorns and weeds. The Lord spoke to Adam saying, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food.” (Genesis 3:19, New International Version) Is the fact that the earth is filled with weeds and requires hard work to sustain our lives a bad thing? Would life be better if there were no adversity, pain, or opposition? The Lord created a world of opposition for our benefit. He told Adam, “Cursed is the ground for thy sake.” (Genesis 3:17, King James Version) Life was not designed to be an existence of endless bliss. Life was designed to create greatness in each of us. Trials and afflictions are for our good. 2 Corinthians 8: 2 reads, “A great trial of affliction . . . [will] abound unto . . . riches.” 1 Peter 1:7 reads, “Trial of your faith [is] much more precious than gold.” Peter teaches us to rejoice in our trials saying, “Think it not strange concerning the fiery trail . . . but rejoice.” (1 Peter 4:12-13, King James Version)

The prophet Isaiah teaches that adversity and affliction are good for the growth of our spirit like bread and water are good for the growth of the body saying, “The Lord give[s] you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction.” (Isaiah 30:20, King James Version)

We are all familiar with growing pains. Growth is a source of pain, but it is good pain. Sometimes the best people experience great pain because they are ready to learn and grow. The Savior teaches in the parable of the vine, “. . . every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2, New King James Version) Pruning is the process of cutting off branches. Someone unfamiliar with the pruning process may think that the person pruning the vine is trying to punish, destroy, or kill the tree. While pruning does cause pain, its purpose is not to injure, harm, or punish. On the contrary, the pruning process will eventually lead to a higher level of production. For after much tribulation, cometh the blessing.

Parable of the Renovated House
“Image yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996) p. 176) Jesus is the master carpenter and he wants to build us into something great. As taught the apostle Paul, “God began doing a good work in you, and I am sure he will continue it until it is finished . . .” (Philippians 1:6, New Century Version)

“In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I [the Lord] have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, King James Version)

Lesson 3: You can learn something from every person you meet—even a jackass.

There is something we can learn from each person we meet. Each person has unique insights and experiences we can draw upon. We should approach others with an open mind and a willingness to be taught. We should look for the good in others and everyone is doing something good we can learn from.

During the French and Indian War, the British General Edward Braddock, age 60 at the time, employed the help of a Virginia militia. One of the young 23-year old Virginia soldiers who was well acquainted with the Indian mode of warfare, modestly offered his advice, the haughty Braddock said, "What! An American buskin teach a British general how to fight!" (B.J Losing, Signers of the Declaration of Independence, (New York: George F. Colledge & Brother, 1848) p. 167) Braddock did not heed the advice and the British suffered a disastrous defeat and General Braddock was wounded by a shot through the right arm and into his lung. Following the injury to General Braddock, George Washington, with no official position in the chain of command, was able to lead and maintain some order and formed a rear guard, which allowed them to evacuate and eventually disengage. This earned him the title of “Hero of the Monongahela.” General Braddock was carried off the field by George Washington, the soldier whose advice he had rejected. Braddock died on July 13, 1755, four days after the battle. Before he died, Braddock left Washington the blood stained sash of his uniform. Washington carried the sash with him for the remainder of his life. Perhaps he carried the sash as a reminder of the cost of pride and of the necessary of being humble and teachable if he was to be successful in his efforts. Had Braddock listened to the advice of young George Washington his life may have been saved.

Lesson 4: If the path you are on is blocked, the Lord may want you to go in a different direction.

My first business venture failed, leaving me with thousands of dollars in business debt. I was newly married and I had no income. My wife was working earning $10 per hour but her income was not even enough to cover our $1,800 a month in debt payments. I now joke with her that she married me for my money, but the truth is she was my sugar mama. I was forced to put my entrepreneurial efforts on hold for a season and look for a job. I graduated with honors from business school and applied for dozens of jobs that were a good match for my skills, experience and degree, but I received rejection letter after rejection letter. I even apply at a call center that seemed to hire nearly everyone for a $6 per hour job and was rejected.

I now joke with people saying, “I had to start a business because I was the only person who would hire me.” I prayed to the Lord for help finding a job but got the answer that the Lord did not want me to get a job. I was supposed to start a business. This did seem to make any sense at this point in my life and did not seem like a possible option. I followed a prompting to start a lecture series at the university, which my wife supported even though it didn’t seem to make any sense since it would take a significant amount of my time and would provide no income. Acting in faith, we built the lecture series, which I and guests I invited in taught. Following one of the lectures by an invited guest, I was leaving the building about 1 ½ after the lecture had ended (I stayed to talk with the students and answer questions), when the guest lecturer pulled up outside the building. He rolled down his window and said, “The Spirit told me I needed to come back to talk to you.” We set up a time to meet. We began the meeting with prayer but were not sure exactly why we were meeting. He laid out the projects he was working on and ideas he wanted to pursue. I laid out my talents and experience and the project I was working on and wanted to pursue. We eventually came to a business idea that felt like the right way. We partnered on the new venture, with him putting up all the money and me putting up the time to build and manage the company. The company did over $1 million dollars in revenue the second year in business and over $10 million in the fifth year of business. What had seemed impossible became a reality through Christ. The Lord had blocked the job path because there was another path I was to take.

Long before Shrek had his run in with a talking donkey, Balaam had his life saved by one. If you apply the four lessons discussed above, you too will have a story to share about the time your life was saved by a jackass.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Becoming a Good Receiver

In Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan helped a man who was robbed of his money and clothes and left half dead. The Samaritan bound his wounds, cared for him, and took him to an inn. The Samaritan also paid the host two pence to take care of the injured man and agreed to repay the host if the cost was higher. (Luke 10:30–35) The Samaritan had to first receive financial means before he could give of his means to care for the robbed and injured man. It can be understood, then, that to be good givers, we must also be good receivers.

What makes someone a poor receiver? One of the factors is a belief in the myth “I am not worthy or deserving of prosperity.” A belief in this myth prevents us from achieving our full financial potential. God is the ultimate giver. He wants to give us the gifts of prosperity and abundance. Our role is to learn to be a good receiver and accept God’s gifts. Many who do not feel worthy or deserving of financial abundance reject God’s gifts. What good is a gift if it is not received? A rejected gift hurts both the giver and the receiver because the receiver gives up the joy of the gift and the giver is denied the joy and blessings of giving the gift.

Don’t Rob Me of My Blessings
While serving in a missionary ministry in Hawaii, I associated with many wonderful Christians. The Polynesians regarded representatives of Christ with the same respect and honor as they did their chiefs. As I preached the gospel, people of all denominations would impart to us of their time, food, possessions, and money in support of the Lord’s work. They knew the Lord would bless them for their sacrifices.

On one particular occasion, when I was walking along the Kamehameha Highway, a car pulled up right along side me. As we were both in motion, a man rolled down his window and handed me a $20 bill. At first I didn’t realize what he was handing me but when I found that it was money I kindly refused and tried to return it. As I ran after the car the man said, “Don’t rob me of my blessings.” He sped away leaving me with a $20 bill I felt I shouldn’t have. Receiving gifts and money became a regular occurrence. Being new to Hawaii and not fully understanding the culture, I tried to refuse gifts and money that were constantly offered me. I quickly learned not to do this. Each time I tried to refuse the gifts, the giver would get upset and say, “Don't rob me of my blessings!” I learned that by humbly accepting gifts I could, in turn, faithfully promise the giver that they would be blessed for their sacrifice.

The Polynesians believed that the more a representative of Christ ate the more blessings they would receive. Joe, a 300-pound Tongan, took me out to eat and I ate until I couldn’t eat another bite. After we finished, Joe went to the cashier to pay for the meals. As Joe began to pay, the cashier said, “Sir, someone has already paid for the meals.” Joe looked around the restaurant and called out loudly, “Who robbed me of my blessings?” The restaurant went quiet. Joe was disappointed that he had not been able to pay for the meals and thus was robbed of his blessings. In an attempt to still receive blessing for feeding a representative of Christ, he told the cashier that we were going to eat again and this time not to let anyone else pay for the meals. This experience taught me not only to be a good receiver, but also to be a big eater.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Let Freedom Ring!

On March 23, 1775, there were some in the House that thought it better to have peace then fight for freedom. The House was leaning toward not committing troops against the encroaching British military forces. Patrick Henry rose to speak and said in part: “If we wish to be free . . . we must fight! . . . Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” (Orations of American Orators, (New York: Colonial Press, 1900) p. 59) The crowd jumped up and shouted “To Arms! To Arms!” Patrick Henry was one of the influential advocates of the American Revolution.

On the 4th of July in 1776 the Congress assembled in Independence Hall in Philadelphia to decide whether or not to officially accept the Declaration of Independence which reads in part:

"We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

As the congress was assembled, an elderly bell-man ascended to the steeple, and a little boy was placed at the door of the Hall to give him notice when the vote should be concluded. The old man waited long at his post and had his doubts saying, “They will never do it. They will never do it.”

The signing of The Declaration of Independence was a solemn act, and required great firmness and patriotism. It was treason against the government of Great Britain—an offense that was publishable by death.

At the signing, Benjamin Franklin is quoted as having replied to a comment by John Hancock that they must all hang together saying, “Yes, we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately,” (Jared Sparks, The Life of Benjamin Franklin, (Boston: Whittemore, Niles and Hall) p. 408) This play on words suggested that if they failed to stay united and win the revolution, they would surely each be tried and executed, individually, for treason.

By unanimous vote the declaration was adopted and the blue-eyed boy outside the door began clapping his hands and shouted to the bell man above, “Ring! Ring!” The elderly bell man hurled the iron tongue of the bell back and forth one hundred times, proclaiming, “Liberty to the land and to the inhabitants thereof.” (B.J Losing, Signers of the Declaration of Independence, (New York: George F. Colledge & Brother, 1848)

The Declaration of Independence was official but the fight for freedom was just beginning. The Revolutionary War continued on for seven years. On August 8, 1776, General George Washington wrote the soldiers saying, “Allow me, therefore, to address you as fellow citizens and fellow soldiers engaged in the same glorious cause . . . there can be no doubt, that success will crown our efforts, if we firmly and resolutely determine to conquer or to die. . . We must now determine to be enslaved or free. If we make freedom our choice, we must obtain it by the blessing of Heaven on our united and vigorous efforts. I salute you, Gentlemen, most affectionately, and beg leave to remind you, that liberty, honor and safety are all at stake; and I trust Providence will smile upon our efforts, and establish us once more, the inhabitants of a free and happy country. I am, Gentlemen, your humble servant.” (Jared Sparks, The Writings of George Washington, Volume IV, (Boston: Ferdinand Andrews, 1838) p. 37-38)

The last major battle of the Revolutionary War was the Battle of Yorktown when the American and French forces achieved a large and decisive victory over the British, capturing over 7,000 of the British troops and forcing an unconditional surrender by General Lord Cornwallis on October 17, 1781. During the surrender, the British drummers played the march, “The Day the World Turned Upside Down.” The surrender of Cornwallis’s army prompted the British government to eventually negotiate an end to the conflict. In 1783, the Treaty of Paris officially ended the Revolutionary War.

There were 217,000 American service members that fought during the eight year Revolutionary War. They suffered much sickness, privations, hardships and death, but their courage, desire for freedom, and reliance on the Almighty led them to an eventual victory. There were 4,435 that gave their life in battle and an additional 6,188 were wounding during the battles of the war. (United States Department of Veteran Affairs, Retrieved June 30, 2008 from http://www1.va.gov/opa/fact/amwars.asp)

With the 4th of July coming this Friday, I felt it an appropriate message this week to reflect on the lives of those who gave their all to secure the freedoms we now enjoy. Before you light off your fireworks on the evening of the 4th of July, may I suggest you have a moment of silence to honor the lives of those who fought to secure America’s independence and say a prayer of thanks to God for sending such men to secure the freedoms we enjoy.

On the fiftieth anniversary of The Declaration of Independence, two of the Founding Fathers who assisted in the drafting of the Declaration and served as Presidents of the United States passed away. In the spring of 1826, Thomas Jefferson’s health rapidly declined confining him to his bed. On the 3rd of July, he inquired the day of the month. On being told he expressed a fervent desire to live until the next day, to breathe the air of the fiftieth anniversary of his country’s independence. On the morning of the 4th after having expressed gratitude to his friends and servants for their care, he said in a distinct voice, “I resign myself to my God, and my child to my country.” At nearly the same hour John Adams passed away and the last words he uttered were, “Independence for ever!” (B.J Losing, Signers of the Declaration of Independence, (New York: George F. Colledge & Brother, 1848)

May we each this 4th of July, 2008, the 232nd anniversary of The Declaration of Independence, pledge our lives, fortunes and sacred honor to the work of freedom and declare the final words of John Adams, “Independence for ever!” If our freedom is to be preserved, the great men and women of this nation must again unite and work and fight for freedom as did our inspired founders.

May God’s blessings be upon you and the United States of America.