Financial Death by a Thousand Cuts

Only the Foundation
of My Aunt’s House Survived the Tornado (1974)

The first time I heard the phrase “Death by a Thousand Cuts” my imagination ran off with a graphic image of someone literally bleeding to death drop by drop. I had a great aunt who almost died from such a fate.

In April 1974, a tornado hit her house in Indiana. She lived in a two story farm house about 30 miles east of Indianapolis. The tornado made a direct hit and her house vanished. Only the foundation remained. Moments after the tornado passed, a neighbor drove down the road and wondered aloud, “Where is Mary Hawkins’ house?”

He parked his truck and surveyed the damage. Across the road from the former house, he heard groans and found her in a barren cornfield. The tornado had thrown her about 200 yards away. Someone found her bathtub a mile away. My brother found a letter bearing her name and address 15 miles away while hunting for mushrooms a few weeks later.

The tornado and debris stripped her of all her clothes except her underwear. She had lacerations on ever inch of her body. She had more than a thousand cuts and had lost a great deal of blood. Somehow, through through the grace of God, she survived and lived another 20 years.

I have mentored many men. It has been a great joy to do so and through this process I see patterns that emerge. They are not really surprising after you consider them, but like so much of life, they often pass by unnoticed. One such pattern is the common error of money mismanagement.

Blindly, we advance through life without paying close attention to this area of life. We commence our journeys as young adults filled with starry-eyed dreams. We hope and assume that as we progress toward middle age that we will arrive at the Promised Land of financial stability and wealth.

Hope and assumptions are not good strategies. The reality is that we go through each day as though on a trek through a Financial Wilderness. Brambles and thorn bushes crowd the trail we trod. We suffer thousands of cuts and bleed out financially without being fully aware of the great loss of blood.

“Why pay money for something that will not nourish you? Why spend your hard-earned money on something that will not satisfy?” Isaiah 55:2 NET

I like to ask questions when I mentor. “How do you choose what you spend your money on?” Most stare back blankly and blink their eyes. Like deer in the proverbial headlights, they don’t know why. They suffer cuts and bleed out money without being aware of just how much is lost.

I like to get down to the emotional reasons why a young man spends his money. Often it is to impress others. Sometimes, it is because everyone else is doing it and they imagine it to be the norm. Some experience the shame (or the perception) of being poor. All these together with many more answers cause us to make daily choices. We spend money. What we buy does not satisfy us, but we arise the next day, “rinse and repeat.”

Add up the money you spend weekly on eating out; at Starbucks; on car washes; and whatever else is your favorite way of suffering financial cuts. How many subscriptions do you have? Cable TV? Netflix? What else? Do you budget? If not, do you keep a record of your spending? Most are unaware of the summations of these little expenditures over a one year period. They suffer financial blood loss over the course of time.

Money problems is likely the number one reason people divorce. Oh, yes, we might cite a lackluster sex life, the breakdown in communication or arguing over the children, but often these stem from the results of fighting over money. Believe me men, when you fight over money, your next thought is not “I wonder if I will get lucky tonight?” And most assuredly, your wife is not dreaming of the next passionate moment.

When we understand the answer to “Why do I spend my money?” we have the opportunity to avoid future cuts. Find a life coach to mentor you in this area. Humble yourself and admit that you need guidance. Read books on finances. Go to Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University” where you can learn the practical steps to being liberated. There are many ways we can stem the loss of financial blood. Find one and take action!

Photo: April 1974 taken by my mother, Mildred Wilfong near Greenfield, Indiana

“Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.”

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Traveling the Risk Road

 

IMG_7860

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood … and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” These famous lines from the Robert Frost poem The Road Not Taken describe our lives on a regular basis. Daily and weekly we face choices. Often these paths seem little different, yet upon examination one is shown to be traveled less than the other.

In leadership, it is good to take the road that others avoid. Leadership is a trait that is developed. There are a few who are “born leaders,” but even these must develop their character or in the end it will go to waste as they will eventually fail and fall. About 95% of all leaders were developed by being mentored by another or by being thrown into a crisis situation. Many of these did not show potential early in life, yet they developed into remarkable leaders.

As I develop leaders, the mantra which has emerged is “get them in over their head.” The concept is that if things are too comfortable, a person will not develop. Getting them into situations where they are forced to step up or to face their own deficiencies is a good thing even if they fail!

Another way to phrase this is to urge young leaders to take risks. There are a few natural risk takers who will plunge into an endeavor without using common sense. These people will learn, but it comes at a high price. Most future leaders need to have some prodding by a life coach or mentor. They have to get out onto the road less traveled i.e. a road with some risk. I like to think of it as a guided risk.

Young men ask my advice quite frequently. I ponder my answers carefully. Do I just give them the right answer? It will keep them from the pain of failure. Sometimes I do this but often I answer by asking questions to make them think. Sometimes I urge them to step out in faith. This always has a positive effect upon them. It may take them longer, but they will remember the event. Strong emotions always are remembered well.

One such man sold his house by himself. His fear was high. He was completely out of his element. My business is in real estate so I guided him and walked along side him, but did not do all the work for him.

All Lessons in Humility are Noteworthy!

In the end, he did quite fine but many good things happened. He humbled himself both in my eyes, but more importantly in his own eyes. He does not suffer from pride but often, as humans, we drift toward it. So, all lessons of humility are noteworthy. He also learned a great deal about real estate and himself. At breakfast this morning, he confided that his confidence has soared because of this six-week-step of faith.

Another young man recently had an opportunity to flip a house. He could choose to  spin off the house without ever taking title to it and pocket a few thousand dollars or to buy it, fix it up and then sell it. This second choice frightened him greatly. Many questions loomed large in his mind. Would it work out? Would he find a buyer? What if he tied up all his capital and another opportunity appeared? I urged him to jump in and take the bigger risk knowing he would be stretched greatly.

In the end, it worked our wonderfully for him. He traveled the “guided risk road.” He made about 5 times the profit and it took him 2 months. I am delighted for him to make money but more importantly,  that he took a risk and learned.

Not every exercise turns out well. Sometimes we fall flat on our faces. But in either case, we are traveling a more risky road. We walk down the road less traveled and that will make all the difference!

Photo credit: Taken by myself in Olympic National Park in 2018

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Wisdom’s Tuition

dumbass no more

For years, as I have mentored young men, I have joked about a book that I’d like to write entitled Dumbass No More: 501 Stories from My Life for You to Not Repeat. The book has yet to be written but the response is 99% positive. The only negative one came from a pastor who feared laughing at the word “dumbass.” He just did not know what to do in the moment.

“Knowledge is Power” goes the saying. While this is true, my observations of 4 decades as an adult is that there are a lot of  stupid knowledgeable people traversing our planet. Let me explain. There is a powerful “commodity” that you can add to knowledge that amplifies it ten-fold. It is Wisdom! There are a lot of people who have great knowledge but demonstrate significant deficiencies in the realm of wisdom.

Solomon, the King of Israel once said, “Using a dull ax requires great strength, so sharpen the blade. That’s the value of wisdom; it helps you succeed.” (Ecclesiastes 10:10). If knowledge is power, then wisdom is atomic in strength. Knowledge without wisdom will get the job done. Wisdom gets it done with ease and avoids mistakes. In essence, wisdom is knowing how to apply your knowledge.

So, where do we get wisdom? First, we must understand that wisdom ALWAYS comes at a cost …. it has a tuition. The tuition for wisdom is very high and is ALWAYS paid. But that does not mean that there are not coupons and discounts. Everytime you try something and fail, you have the opportunity to learn wisdom (some people don’t actually learn). The failure … (and its accompanying friends: shame; pain; embarrassment; loss of time, money, opportunity, reputation etc)…. is the currency by which you pay.

There is a way to minimize your payment.  It still costs, but it is quite reasonable. First, read biographies. When you do so, you learn from other’s mistakes. The wisdom is there  for the reasonable price of the time expended to read and to think deeply about what you read (this is actually hard to do). Someone else has already paid a very steep price for this wisdom and it is there for all of us on the pages of such books.

Another  tied and trusted method is to find a mentor. The cost you pay is the effort to find someone qualified and then that of actually listening and heeding their advice. This is costly but not as much as the pain of falling on your face. I mentor a lot of young men. Most have enjoyed the fruit of having avoided great calamities in life because they humbled themselves enough to follow through. A few  have imagined it was like going to a cafeteria restaurant. They select what they want to hear and skip the rest. Their lack of progress displays the folly of such thinking. Often, they return later, having paid the price of pain. This experience “readies’ them to actually listen from the heart the second time around.

How far do you want to advance? Which price do you want to pay? You will pay either way. The choice is yours. I have sidestepped many crises and disasters in my life solely because I had others who mentored me.  You can too! The tuition you pay is well worth the cost.

Photo is of Dolly, a donkey who lives behind my house. Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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Stepping Out & Taking the Plunge

Zdub rock jumping

I stumbled upon a marvelous leadership principle by accident some 10+ years ago.  I was reading The Dream Giver by Bruce Wilkinson. He stated the the single most important thing that we can do to develop leaders is to get them in over their heads. At first, I was surprised. I took a few minutes to ponder this unexpected thought. It challenged my thinking and my style.

Up until that moment, I had focused on protecting those I led. In short, I was a helicopter leader, which meant that those I led were stunted by my myopic style. Suddenly, a different seed had been planted in my mind. It germinated and grew to a thought that attracted me. Had I really, unintentionally, kept young men from developing? Yes, I had!

The concept grew over the following months and years and now is a centerpiece of  my leadership development training. Francis Chan, in his well-known book Crazy Love echoes this thought. One of his professors asked him to name something in his life that actually required faith. Considering he was in theological school, one might assume he had numerous examples, but he could think of nothing.

Faith is spelled R-I-S-K. Faith is defined in the Bible as seeing into the invisible realm and then acting upon that vision (Hebrews 11). It differs somewhat from taking a plunge. I often took a plunge without reaping the desired outcome. I plunged because of frustration not because of faith. The only thing these two words have in common is the first letter. Faith sees a potential outcome while frustration feels  … frustration.

Typically, my frustration was borne out of not knowing what to do, but feeling the need to do something. Thus, my plunging occurred in isolation. Leadership development should rarely occur in isolation. An emerging leader should be one who is following a leader, not merely a renegade with an affinity for risk! You can learn from the latter, but the “tuition” that you pay for the resultant wisdom that you gain will be high.

An emerging leader should be one who is following a leader, not merely a renegade with an affinity for risk!

If you wish to develop into a leader, find a leader to follow and serve. Take risks. Plunge into the unknown, but don’t just plunge blindly. Ask your leader to point you into directions that will challenge you. Ask them for guidance regarding your weakness. Then step out. In this way, you will not be in isolation but will be stretched.

You will have some guidance but not too much and you will have a leader to review the outcome so that you can learn, grow and not interpret it wrongly. Chris is a young man I recently met while on a trip to Florida. We connected deeply and he wants to grow in leadership development. He holds dual citizenship and is fluent in Spanish. Knowing the absolute importance of seeing him step out of his comfort zone as soon as possible, I immediately challenged him on two fronts:

  • Come with me in two months to Peru and be my interpreter (something  he has never done, thus challenging)
  • Raise $800 in financial support to pay for your expenses (also challenging)

Chris is 23. This is new to him and he is definitely “in over his head.” I offer him weekly leadership training via video calls (I live in Indiana). We review what to expect and what he needs to do. His plunging is not in isolation. It is a guided plunge but I am not holding his hand. I no longer “helicopter” over those I lead. He will be stretched.

After our trip to Peru, we will evaluate. He will learn and grow. Regardless of the outcome, Chris will be much further down the path of leadership development, will have less fear of failure and will have experienced being in over his head. Those are the goals.

Photo used by permission: Credit Joe Zeltwanger

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The Secret Ear & Voice of Encouragement

Listening earIsaiah 50:4 “The Lord has given me an ear to hear His inaudible voice as a disciple SO THAT I can be His voice to those who need encouragement. Morning by morning He awakes my ear to listen to His voice.”(Paraphrase)

As followers of Jesus Christ, most of us long to be used in meaningful ways to further the advancement of the Kingdom. One of the greatest things that we can do is to be an ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5). An ambassador is one commissioned to represent an authority and speak on their behalf. Typically this is thought of as sharing our faith with others who do not follow Jesus. But there is a twin aspect to this, which is the encouragement of the saints.

While it is noble to long for and desire to be used of God to strengthen and encourage our fellow believer, the efficacy of our attempts are often found to be less than we had hoped. One of the great secrets to fruitful encouragement is found in Isaiah 50:4. Here the prophet reveals his own habit which led him to become the greatest Old Testament messianic prophet. No one else in the Scriptures prophesied about the coming Messiah as clearly and distinctly as did Isaiah.

The voice of power and encouragement is rooted in the inner room of secret prayer where our ear is trained by our Heavenly Father. In this hidden classroom, we discover God to be the Father (Our “Father“). We recognize our relationship as brothers and sisters (“Our” Father). We are trained in the art of intimacy of worship (“Hallowed be Your Name”). We expand the Kingdom and establish God’s will (“Your Kingdom come; Your will be done). We learn to trust Father for His fatherly provision (“Give us our daily bread“). We learn the high cost of love (“Forgive us to the same measure which we forgive others“). We are trained in spiritual war against an invisible enemy (“deliver us from evil“).  Without these specific “lessons” we will have very limited power and influence in the lives of others.

Isaiah experienced such a classroom. Notice how he points to a morning by morning awakening of his ear to hearing the inaudible voice of God. It is the trained ear which then frees an empowered tongue. But alas, how frequent we rush out with an emotional thought inflated with the air of our good intentions – but a thought which was not birthed in the quiet consideration of patient communion? Without such intimate meditation with God the Father, we cannot be His ambassadors for we go out representing WHAT WE IMAGINE TO BE HIS HEART. Remember an ambassador speaks on behalf of the one who commissions.

In the days of Jeremiah, he faced similar circumstances. Sincere people birthed premature inspirations which gave no benefit to the hearers. Jeremiah 23:16 & 22 “Many  receive an inspirational thought, but do not discern that it did not originate from Me….don’t listen to their voices, for they give you false hope…. but if these who are speaking, had waited and stood in My counsel – taking the time to discern My voice from their own emotional imaginations – then they would have possessed My true word which would have turned you back to Me.” (Paraphrase)

It is the disciple’s trained and patient spiritual ear which frees the disciple’s tongue to be a powerful weapon issuing forth true encouragement from the Lord. But so many mistake an inspirational thought for God’s voice. Additionally, many seem to wrongly think that we are in some sort of competition to be noticed, be important or gain a position. An insecure spirit gives birth to the rushed delivery of thought. Careful and prayerful waiting upon the Lord, will separate out the wheat from the chaff. When we compete with others to be noticed, we are proving by our words and actions, that we have not been well trained as sons or daughters to our Father.

The fires of  being patient, of being honest in our heart and of developing a listening ear in the daily classroom of the inner room, will purge away the dross of self-commissioning from our spiritual ears. Then the true gold of what is really from our Father will result in lasting fruit. We will be His voice of great encouragement. It comes at a high cost but is worth the price.

 

 

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True Prophets….

fruit and truthI ponder the often repeated warning of our Lord to not be led astray by false prophets. Although this warning is abundant, many today are falling prey. My thoughts fly to the question, “What makes a prophet false?” If we fail to grasp this fundamental distinction, we have little chance of escaping the gravitational pull of error.

False prophets can fall into two camps. Those who are false from conception, meaning they do not know Jesus at all. They teach false doctrine about the Person and Work of Jesus Christ and deny Him outright. The second group arises from within the Church. These individuals are often born again yet carry a “falseness” to them. Perhaps it is wrong to call them “false prophets” since I consider many of them to be redeemed individuals, but bear with this term and thought. It is not important to have agreement on this (in this blog), but it is vital to grasp the distinction.

Today there is a cacophony of voices ringing in our ears day and night. We hear people on TV, on the radio, Facebook posts, Twitter, Youtube, in our Churches as well as many other locations. These voices descend upon us like a plague of locust and the result is that we have to tune them out. We get accustomed to tuning people and voices out. It is the natural and predictable result. Yet we tune out because of fatigue rather than because of discernment. Thus a true voice of God passes by and we pay little attention. We are like the inn keeper failing to recognize Mary who was great with child. He missed his opportunity because the abundance of visitors to Bethlehem kicked into gear, his need to tune out and ignore.

The best way to assess a “voice” or someone speaking on behalf of God (for this, in essence is what a prophet does) is to not merely examine their “predictions” or “prophecies” but to examine their life. It is said of Jesus that He Himself is and has eternally been the Word of God (John 1:1). Furthermore the great apostle states in John 1:14 “…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” The Word of God is the thought of God, the expression of God. Jesus as the Word came and fully expressed all that God the Father is (John 14:9 “he who has seen Me has seen the Father...”; Hebrews 1:3 the Son is the full expression of the nature and character of God). Jesus lived life congruent with the Word and therefore looking at Him you see the full expression of God. In other words, true prophets, like Jesus, will have their lives and their words in alignment. 

How do the lives of the voices that you hear (the “prophets”) align with the Word? This is where the compass called “discernment” finds it’s true north. It seems that on a monthly basis, revelations come public of another servant of God falling into shame. These men are sons of God (usually), but disgraced. The reality is that those of us doing the listening to great preachers, have little access to their personal lives. This is an unfortunate reality. If someone is going to be a voice in my ear, I want to know the fruit and character of their life. Is the Word manifest in their actions in their private lives?

I speak from over 40 years of close and careful observation. I have witnessed many “false prophets” of this second category both evangelical and charismatic. The people of God are like teenage girls at a rock concert. She is enamored by every word and “in love.” When a preacher arises and is either super eloquent, has a highly attractive personality or builds a dynamic and large ministry, we universally assume that this preacher is fully from God. One need only to Google fallen ministers of the last 30 years to gain insight that there is little to no correlation between eloquence or size of ministry and character.

The apostle John in 2 John 1:7-8 speaks of this. In these two verses, he warns of false voices and reminds the true followers that it is altogether possible that they enter heaven having lost a “full reward” because of such influences. So much hangs in the balance yet we pay slight attention to details. We will stand before Jesus one day. The outcome of that moment will be greatly shaped by those to whom we yielded our ears. Jesus said in Luke 8:18 “So take care how you listen….” Remember that the apostle Paul was not eloquent (2 Corinthians 10:10 and 11:6). “True voices of God bear good fruit in their lives” (Jesus Christ, Matthew 7:16-20)

author’s note: in this writing, I use the term “prophet” in a general sense to mean one who speaks on behalf of God. They may never make a prediction or prophecy.

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September 12, 2015 · 8:49 am

The Voice of Abel

death of AbelAbel was the 2nd son of Adam and Eve. He was a shepherd while his older brother, Cain, a farmer. His story is short and sad and he has the unfortunate distinction of being the first human to be murdered. Not much is spoken of Abel in the Bible apart from this original account in Genesis 4. Yet there is a remarkable quality and characteristic about him which few ponder. Abel’s voice still speaks.

When Cain murdered him, God confronted Cain saying “the voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground.” Jesus called Abel a prophet and laid the guilt of the shedding of the blood of all the prophets (from Abel to Zechariah) upon Jesus’ own generation. The author of the book Hebrews speaks of Abel twice. In Hebrews 11:4 it is written that Abel’s sacrifice was superior and although he is dead, his voice still speaks. This is a remarkable quality and one I hope to attain to. I hope that upon the final breath…. the one where the Lord Himself reaches out and catches my last exhale in His hand, that my voice continues to speak. When I walk through a graveyard, I see countless headstone commemorating lives….. I think of all the hopes, dreams, longings, fears, regrets and words that each person had or spoke. Each and every one of these are now dead as well as their voices. But there are a few who have walked this earth whose voices still speak. Paul, Peter and the other authors of books of the Bible come quickly to mind as well as some very famous women and men who have championed noble causes.

This morning I read of a common woman whose voice also remains. This woman did a very simple act which was despised while she did it. In fact she was rebuked and shamed for doing it. Her name is Mary. She took a very expensive bottle of perfume and poured it upon Jesus’ feet. The disciples, who were dominated by their man-centered theology, ridiculed and belittled her for what they perceived to be the wrong application of something of great value. Yet Jesus rebukes them for their myopic view. He then goes on to say that not only what she had done was something of great importance but gives her a place in history by saying “where ever the gospel is preached, this kind act will be retold and recounted in her honor and memory.” Mary’s action continues to speak to us today. She has a voice which still speaks.

I love how it is written in Mark 14:8 “She has done what she could….” Jesus does not commend her for being great, nor for being important, nor for having some prominent position or gifting. Rather he commends her for doing what she could. Her faithfulness to “doing what was within her ability, although it was despised and ridiculed” has caused her voice to continue to speak. Paul writes to the Corinthians “furthermore it is required of a steward that one be found faithful.” (1 Corinthians 4:2). So many of us fail to be faithful because we measure what has been given to us to steward against someone else’s  gift. We compare and weigh our graces, giftings and callings against those who seem better qualified and arrive at a wrong conclusion which is that we should just not bother. BUT we miss the main point which is to be faithful TO the Lord…. We serve Him as an expression of worship, but when we have our eyes upon our own recognition or some earthly way of evaluating our graces, we have our eyes off Jesus.

May we “do what we can do” for Him out of deep worship and adoration as we see Him for Who He is. I also think of the Widow’s Mite story where Jesus said she put in more than all the others. Jesus failed to measure her by human standard. May we too learn to view things from the heavenly and eternal perspective and walk out faithfully and by faith our calling. It is an act of faith that causes our voice to continue to be heard. After we have left this world, we may be forgotten, but every action is remembered and recorded by the Lord. One day we will stand before him to have our works evaluated. It is not a question of getting in to heaven, but rather being judged by the Lord and finding out what of gold or precious stones remain. Remember that He is the Worthy One. He is worthy of us each “doing what we can” with all our might faithfully.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/33563858@N00/2721779271″>Cain interficit Abelem</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

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