Saturday, October 17, 2015

Book Review - "The Entitlement Cure - Finding Success in Doing Hard Things the Right Way"

I was given this book a couple of months ago and asked to write a book review on it. I have taken my time, frankly, because I have been getting so much out of the book that I didn't want to rush the process. 

The Entitlement Cure: Finding Success in Doing Hard Things the Right WayDr. John Townsend, bestselling author of Boundaries, has done a great job of helping us all to understand how to help ourselves and others who battle against the curse of entitlement. We live in an age of entitlement: "the belief that I am exempt from responsibility and I am owed special treatment." We see it everywhere, from employees who don't feel the need to work, to self-centered children, to narcissists to prima donnas in leadership - and in ourselves.

There are some key takeaways this book has provided that have equipped me to tackle some challenges I've been avoiding. Let me lay out a few of them:

1. The Hard Way cures entitlement.

The Hard Way is "the habit of doing what is best, rather than what is comfortable, to achieve a worthwhile outcome." I think we all know this intuitively, but having a definition helps. And the key is in understanding that the Hard Way is also the right way. Short cuts will only keep us from learning lessons we need to master.

2. Entitlement hurts ourselves and others.
We often think that our behaviors and bad habits are our business and ours alone. However, we live in community, our families, our workplaces; even our communities are affected by our choices and the way in which we live our lives. If we choose to engage in self-destructive behavior, it affects everyone who cares about us. If we choose to excuse entitlement in others, we simply pass along the responsibility which someone else must meet. Bad situations don't get better on their own, much as we wish they would.

3. Entitlement is a rejection of reality. 
God created the world with principles within which everything operates. Entitlement is living as if those principles didn't exist. We can wish all that we want to that this world was fair and everyone should have the same opportunity, talent, resources, etc... but wishing does not make it so. We are to do the best we can with what we have - this is success. Townsend outlines 5 life principles which are unavoidable:
  • Humility and Dependence -  We are Completely Dependent on God
  • Connectedness - We are Designed to Live in Connectedness with Each Other
  • Ownership - We have to Take Responsibility for Our Own Choices
  • Accepting the Negative - Your Flaws Can't Be Forgiven and Healed until You Admit Them
  • Finding Our Role - To Live Long and Contentedly, Find Your Purpose in Life and Fulfill It   
4. To change, we must want to change.
If we, as individuals, want to change, we must create the environment where change is possible. Often that means bringing people around us who truly care about us and want to see us grow. In helping others who need to change, often we must first stop doing whatever it is that enables them, and help them to see the consequences of staying the same and the benefits of change. "Relationships which promote growth require the presence of grace and truth in each person."

5. Anything worth doing requires discipline.
Positive change requires an understanding that discipline is a good thing. We need to develop internal structure (the combination of our capacities to focus, persevere, and delay gratification toward a goal) as well as external structure (a framework of reminders and short-term goals that breaks time down into bite-sized elements). As someone said, we first form our habits - then our habits form us.

6. Positive change often starts with saying "I was wrong."
It's certainly not a psychological breakthrough to say that the first step in change is admitting that we need to change, but it's true nonetheless. many things will keep us from this admission, but it is truly necessary to move forward, and is in fact a discipline which needs to be embraced. "Nothing substantive happens in our lives until we humble ourselves enough to say the words 'I was wrong.'"

I highly recommend this book. As I wrote earlier, I will be embracing some needed changes over the next little while, thanks to Dr. Townsend. I trust that you will find it as helpful as I have. This book deserves to be read widely.   

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Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Do You Want to Become a Morning Person?

I haven't posted on here in a long time. Part of the reason for that is busyness, and part of it is laziness. But today I came across a blog post from Michael Hyatt that I though was just too good not to share. In it he talks about how to become a morning person. I share this because I've met a great number of people who have told me that they wish they were morning people. So, if you're one of those, click on the link below and read this excellent article. I hope you get something out of it; life is a horrible thing to waste.
How to Become a Morning Person

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I'm a Grandfather!

Yesterday my first grandchild was born – Luke Wesley denBok. He came into the world amid a flurry of activity and mixed emotions, as life’s complications threatened to deprive us of the sheer joy of the moment. But into this world he came, ready or not.

His birth, to me, was like a microcosm of life. There were risks involved, the mid-wife was concerned for his well-being and a Caesarean Section was considered. Family members were all dealing with their own lives and problems, while trying to play their part and support the new Mom and Dad and baby. This new little one is absolutely an intrusion, but such a welcome one.

He entered the world and was immediately surrounded by people who love him – first his Mom; then Dad; then Mom’s family; then Dad’s family. And on it goes in expanding concentric circles. It is as it should be. Sharing the joy of a new life is good for the soul.

Upon reflection, what strikes me is the importance of each individual. I mean, we are all part of the “human race,” but that is such an impersonal thing. The Psalmist writes of God: “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” This is true of every individual. Each human being is precious to God; created on purpose and by design.

As such we are all worthy of dignity, each endowed by our Creator with an innate worth. We know that intuitively (or should) when a child is born, but I think we forget that sometimes when people get a little older. We see the extreme value that each of us has in the willingness of Christ to sacrifice His own life for our sake. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

So, everyone is someone for whom Christ died. The child born in a mud hut in Africa has every bit as much value as my grandson born in a modern hospital. The prostitute working a street corner in Los Angeles is loved by God just as much as the deacon in the three piece suit at First Church on Sunday.

I’m reminded of Jesus’ response when asked: what was the greatest command? He replied, in short, that we are to love God and love people. He also said that if we have done it (visited, clothed, fed, etc...) unto the least of these we’ve done it to Him. In other words, our love for God will be reflected in our love for people.

I read a good example of this in Bill Hybels’ book, “Who You Are When No One’s Looking.” He said that he “read of a doctor who spends his Wednesday afternoons hanging out with a dozen homeless people. He talks with them and laughs with them and gives them medical treatment when they need it. One week, one of the homeless men missed the Wednesday meeting because he could barely walk. So the wealthy, well-trained suburban doctor went to find the guy; he sat him down and gently pried off the homeless man’s shoes and socks. What he found underneath were feet badly bruised, blistered and infected. There, in a public place, the doctor sat down on the floor, bathed the man’s sore feet, dressed the wounds and prayed for the man’s comfort.”

I would like to be like that. I’m afraid I have a long way to go. My grandson is one day old, and already I’d do anything for him. I feel the same about all of my family. But everybody is somebody for whom Christ died. Everyone is worthy of love and dignity. I’m trying to develop a heart for others; to learn to love ordinary people the way that God loves me. After all, as someone said, the entire world, with one trifling exception, consists of others. People matter, all of them, large and small. 

Perhaps I'll get there. I hope so. The world would be a better place if more people loved like that. In the meantime, I'm thankful for a special gift from God. Welcome to the world, Luke Wesley denBok, God has big plans for you.  

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Situation Critical

American Pastor Saeed AbediniNovember, in some Canadian churches, has been designated as a month of prayer for the persecuted church. It's appropriate, then, to highlight the plight of just one of many thousands of cases of persecution around the world. I have written before of the case of Pastor Saeed Abedini (right), a U.S. citizen in prison in Iran for his faith.

His situation has become even more critical in recent days. According to reports from The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), Abedini has been moved from Evin Prison in Tehran to Rajai Shahr Prison in Kara. This prison has been described as "the place prisoners go to disappear."

A Dutch diplomat, Loes Bijnen, described the prison like this: "Rajai Shahr is the place where political prisoners who are seen as a nuisance, are stowed away. Going to Karaj is a severe punishment. Once in there one stops to be a human being. One is put out of sight, even of human rights activists and the press. In Raja├» Shahr, political prisoners have to share cells with dangerous criminals like murderers, rapists and drug addicts who don't hesitate to attack their cell mates. They have nothing to lose: many of them are condemned to death anyway. Murders or unexplained deaths are a regular occurrence." 

Coming, as it does, in the midst of an anti-West backlash in Iran, Pastor Saeed's life is in real danger. There is a petition that has been launched in the U.S. to ask President Obama to intervene to bring about a resolution to this situation. If you are a U.S. citizen, please consider signing it. Jay Sekelow describes this as a "life or death situation" and thinks that there may be 24-48 hours to save Saeed.

If you are a believer, it's time to pray. Persecution is nothing new. The Apostle Paul wrote numerous letters during his time in prison, finally giving his life at the hands of a Roman executioner. He said, in his letter to the Colossians, "Remember my chains." It's very easy for us, living in the free world, to blithely go about our daily affairs, never giving a moment's thought to Christians around the world suffering for doing what we so often take for granted.

Whether it's a Pakistani Christian falsely accused of blasphemy, a Christian in China or Vietnam in jail for being a part of an unregistered church, or a Christian in India, beaten for their faith, they ought not to be forgotten. So take a few moments today to pray for those living under the threat of violence and death. How should we pray? Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, wrote "Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should."  

Pray for strength and courage for those undergoing persecution. Pray that they would remain faithful. Pray that they would be delivered and that the Gospel message would continue to go forward. Pray for God's presence in the middle of their trial. Pray for their families as they suffer in other ways. Pray for those working through various means to bring about relief and/or release for the prisoners. Pray for government officials who would be in a place to make a difference. Finally, pray that God would keep your heart soft to the needs of others and that they would never have to stand alone.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Billy Graham: On Technology and Faith

I came across this TED Talk presented by Billy Graham today. It was given back in 1998, but it is still just as applicable today. What does the world's greatest evangelist have to say about technology? I think you'll find it interesting. Technology may be able to solve a lot of problems, but only God can deal with the human heart. It's worth a listen to someone who has spoken to over 2.2 billion people in his lifetime. We won't have him around much longer.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Three Keys to Changing Your Life

I just finished a conversation with a friend of mine that reminded me of many similar conversations I've had over the course of my ministry. Truth be told, it reminded me of myself at a crucial time in my life.

Each of us are, at least in part, products of our environment. That can be good or bad, and is usually a mix of both. For me, my personality lent itself to a number of dysfunctions. On the one hand, I found myself driven to achieve, often taking on more than I could handle. On the other hand, I suffered from insecurity that would whisper in my ear that I didn't know what I was doing and didn't have what it took to accomplish half of what I took on.

Becoming a Christian didn't all of a sudden make those proclivities go away. I still needed to learn how to prioritize. I still needed to learn how to deal with the baggage that I'd picked up over the course of my life. I still needed to apply the truth of Scripture to my life to help me to change.That is a process that requires time and commitment. There are three keys that I've settled on over the years that have helped me greatly.

Put God First
When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment He responded immediately: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." (Matthew 22:37) This speaks of relationship. In other words, in Jesus' opinion, the most important thing in life was to maintain a loving relationship with God the Father. He modeled this Himself while He walked among us.

When we stop to consider who God is, we can understand the wisdom of this position. The God of the Bible is all-powerful, and He created the world from nothing - speaking it into existence. We are told that He created us, as individuals, in His image, with a soul designed for eternity. The Bible also tells us that mankind rebelled against God, choosing to try to live life on our own terms. Thankfully, God was not satisfied to leave us in that condition and provided a way out for us. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, became one of us and paid the penalty for our rebellion. It is this God that we are to have a relationship with, the One who was willing to pay the ultimate price for our salvation.

The Gospels are clear that God is not looking for blind obedience or religiousity, He wants us - as we are. He invites us to come and, when we admit our need, find our deepest satisfaction in Him. As Blaise Pascal said: “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” The early church found this to be true and changed the world with this message. It's still true today. 

Do What You Can Do
When we are faced with a myriad of tasks or challenges there is a tendency to throw up our hands and say, "what's the use?" But for the Christian with a Biblical perspective we understand that God is in the picture and that makes all the difference. While our limited gifts, talents, abilities and resources may be dwarfed by the task at hand, we can do something. I believe that God asks all of us the same question that He asked Moses - "what is that in your hand?"  In other words, what do you have to work with?

We can err in two opposite ways when faced with a challenge: we can have an overly optimistic view of our abilities or we can believe that we can't make a difference. The truth is somewhere in the middle. I may not be able to do everything, but I can do something. As a leader, I've had to learn to prioritize and tackle the most important things first. This is important when you can't possibly do everything on your list. But still, when the list is long, and the time and resources are limited, and there's a lot that remains outside of your control, what do you do? 

Give The Rest To God
We've already talked about placing God first in our lives. What this speaks of here is the daily application of that truth. I'm amazed at how many anxious Christians that I come across, people whose lives, it seems, are constantly focused on "what ifs" that are outside of their control. The Apostle Paul provides a great remedy for that in Philippians 4:6-7.  "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." 

These verses really give a picture of how we are to live out Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. If we really believe what the Bible says about God; if we truly believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, conquering death, hell and the grave; and if we truly believe that He loves us and hears us when we pray, this is how we ought to live. We should daily lay our burdens at His feet and do what we can to advance His Kingdom in this world. As Paul wrote, again, in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 - "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him."
I've found that putting in place these three keys has helped me to be at peace in a world that is often chaotic. It has helped me to keep things in their proper perspective, recognizing that I'm not God, but neither am I helpless. He has called me and will use me, and anyone else who place themselves at His service. At the end of the day I can lay my head on the pillow knowing that God is big enough to handle anything that is beyond my abilities. Worrying never got me very far anyway. As Corrie Ten Boom said, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Two Views of the World

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley

In 1875 William Ernest Henley wrote the poem above that has been taken by many as a sort of personal declaration. Invictus has been quoted at graduations and funerals and, I believe, even inspired Mandela during his years of imprisonment (great movie by the way). Henley was a humanist, who believed in the indomitable power of the human spirit. His convictions come through clearly in his poem. His belief is that he alone was master of his own fate. It is the trumpet call of the "pick yourself up by your bootstraps" crowd.

It has been said that Henley's poem was intended to be a fist shaken defiantly in the face of God who who would dare to claim sovereignty over him. The poem below is, of course, a rewriting of Invictus from a different perspective. Dorothea Day was a journalist who, in her younger years, was quite enamored with the writings of Henley, but who later converted to Christianity. Her poem "My Captain" is a retelling of the same story, but from her new Christian perspective.  

Out of the night that dazzles me,
Bright as the sun from pole to pole,
I thank the God I know to be
For Christ the conqueror of my soul.
Since His the sway of circumstance,
I would not wince nor cry aloud.
Under that rule which men call chance
My head with joy is humbly bowed.
Beyond this place of sin and tears
That life with Him! And His the aid,
Despite the menace of the years,
Keeps, and shall keep me, unafraid.

I have no fear, though strait the gate,
He cleared from punishment the scroll.
Christ is the Master of my fate,
Christ is the Captain of my soul.
Dorothea Day

On the one hand, Henley would claim self-sufficiency, Day would admit to total dependence on God. Henley appeals to the popular notion that "God helps those who help themselves," (which is not in the Bible, by the way), while Day would fall solely on the grace of God. Finally, Henley's world would revolve around what we can do by ourselves, while Day would focus on what Christ has done and what He can do through us.  

They are two very different views of the world. The question is, which one is true. As a recovered "self-made man" I would side with Dorothea. When we get to the end of ourselves it is good to know that the God who has made us has not abandoned us, nor required us to face the world all on our own. Jesus said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you," and, as the missionary David Livingstone said, "that, my friends, is the word of a gentleman."

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