Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Are You Valuable?




I hate being rejected. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world. When I get rejected, I feel like I’m nothing more than a piece of garbage that’s been thrown out to the curb. Sooner or later, the garbage man is going to come along to pick me up.

I first began to understand what it felt like to be rejected when I was in fourth grade. My teacher, Mrs. Montgomery, was a member of the same church as me, which of course was pretty exciting for me. So I took the liberty of making sure everyone in the class was aware of it too.

Needless to say, some of the other kids in my class didn’t respond well. They started calling me “Teacher’s Pet” and a host of other names which I have thankfully forgotten. But I’ll never forget the feelings of rejection I experienced that year.

When I feel rejected, it feels like a dagger has just struck my heart. Whether I want to or not, I take rejection very personally, even on simple things like asking a friend if he wants to go to lunch. That’s why I could never be a salesman.

Hopefully you don’t experience these same feelings, but based on my observations, it seems like a lot of people, like me, struggle with feeling rejected. And if you’re like me, then your feelings of rejection are almost always accompanied by feelings of worthlessness. For me, those two feelings are so interrelated that when I feel one of them, I always feel the other as well.

What Makes Something Valuable?


Let’s say you’re on a mission to buy five bananas, so you go to the grocery store. When you find the bananas in the produce section, you’re not going to buy the first five you see. Instead, you’re going to look over the bananas to find five that look like they meet your expectations.

Let’s say you come across a banana that’s brown and is growing white fuzzies. What are you going to do? Are you going to pick it up or pass over it just like everyone else who came before you. Of course you’re going to pass over it. Why? Because it has no value to you. If you’re like me, brown bananas with white fuzzies aren’t good for anything; the best place for them is in the garbage can.

Let’s dig even deeper here. What makes a brown banana with white fuzzies different from a yellow banana? Well, the difference is that a yellow banana meets a need whereas a brown banana with white fuzzies doesn’t.

Does it only work this way with bananas, or does it work this way with all food? It seems to me that it works this way with all food. Food which meets our needs is going to have value to us whereas food which doesn’t meet our needs isn’t going to have value. The more needs the food meets, the more valuable it is. That’s why we’re willing to pay an exorbitant amount of money for a steak from Mitchell’s Steakhouse, but wouldn’t even dream of paying that much money for a steak from Meijer.

Taking another step back, don’t we find that it works this way with everything in life? I’d say so. We’re willing to pay more money for a Chevy Camaro than for a Ford Focus because the Camaro meets our needs better than the Focus. We’re willing to spend money on indoor plumbing because it meets our needs better than a hole with a shack out back. We’re willing to spend more money to buy a large flat-screen TV rather than continue using the old tube TV because it meets our needs better.

It seems that value is directly connected to need-meeting. The things which are most valuable to us are the things that best meet our needs.

What Makes Someone Valuable?


Can we apply this same principle to people? Is the value we assign to people based upon their ability to meet our needs? Since many of you reading this article live in corporate America, let’s answer this question by taking a look at what makes someone valuable to a business.

Let’s say there was a job opening for a Project Manager at Turner Construction Company where I used to work. What type of person would Turner want to hire? They’d probably want to hire someone with either a civil engineering or construction management degree who has five to ten years of related experience.

Why would they want applicants to have those two credentials? Because they think someone with those credentials is going to be able to perform the job well. Therefore, a person with a civil engineering or construction management degree who also has five to ten years of related experience would be valuable to Turner Construction. On the other hand, a person who has just graduated from college with a creative writing degree is not going to be valuable to Turner Construction.

What’s the difference between the two people in my example? The difference is that one of the people is going to be much more likely than the other one to help Turner be profitable. In the same way that value in the food world is assigned by its need-meeting abilities, value in the corporate world is also assigned by a person’s ability to meet the needs of the company.

What about in our personal lives? Is value assigned in the same way? As much as I don’t like admitting it, it seems like many times the most valuable people in our lives are the ones who meet the most of our needs. A general exception to this rule is a family member who is really sick, but even when we care for that person, we can be doing what we do because it meets our need to feel needed or our need to care for people who are less-privileged than us. I’m not saying we always place value on people only because they meet one or more of our needs, but on the whole, it seems the most valuable people to us are people who meet some of our needs.

Can We Lose Our Value?


Have you ever thought about what your employer would do if you were unable to continue performing your job? Would your employer continue to keep you on the payroll just because they like you, or would your employer get rid of you? Most likely, your employer is going to get rid of you.

In my mind, this concept makes complete sense, but this reality is extremely difficult for me to swallow. No fiscally smart business owner is going to employ someone just because he likes the person. The only reason businesses keep people employed is because of what they can do for the business.

I think the best example of this can be found in the world of professional sports. In 1990, Jaromir Jagr was selected fifth overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins. For years he’s been one of the NHL’s premier players. But now at the age of 45, he’s still on the free agent market. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still a great hockey player, but he’s no longer able to contribute the way he used to. The NHL general managers apparently believe he’s no longer a valuable asset to have on their teams.

Whether we want to accept it or not, every one of us is going to experience the same thing one day. If you’re young like me, you may feel valuable because you can do lots of different things that are valuable for other people and businesses, but one day you’re not going to be able to do all this stuff anymore. You’re going to get wrinkles. Your body is going to wear out. Your memory may even start to escape you. What’s going to happen then? Are you still going to be valuable to the people around you?

Can We Increase Our Value?


When I was rejected by some of the kids in my class back in fourth grade, I began trying to prove to them that I was, in fact, valuable. I wanted to show them that I was worth accepting rather than rejecting. But what could I do to prove my worth to them?

The solution I landed on was to try to emulate someone like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs who ran successful businesses. “If I could become a wealthy, honored, and influential business owner, then,” I thought, “they will think I’m valuable.” So I began working my butt off to get straight A’s, a feat which I achieved for the first time in my life during the final quarter of my fourth grade year. I thought to myself, “I finally got all A’s; now they’ll accept me.”

In my excitement, I ran up to seemingly every person in my class to tell them the good news. I thought everyone would have an immediate change of heart and begin to accept me…but they didn’t. My classmates’ rejection continued to follow me all through my grade school years. But that didn’t stop me from continuing to try to earn the approval of everyone around me.

Once I graduated from college, I began my career as a young Field Engineer (a glorified title for a project manager in training) at Turner Construction. A year and a half later, I switched jobs and began working as a Project Engineer (another glorified title) at Marathon Petroleum.

In both of these jobs, I continued my pattern of trying to prove my worth to the people around me. I attempted to demonstrate over and over again why I was a valuable asset to these companies.

Then I left Marathon to go work as the Director of Operations at the church Amy and I attended. When our Senior Pastor resigned three months later, I stepped in as the interim until we were able to hire a new Senior Pastor. It was here that things began taking a drastic turn.

When our Senior Pastor left, he didn’t leave on the best terms. And his explanation of why he was leaving was filled with a multitude of unanswered questions, both for us on the leadership team and for the congregation. Over the course of the next six months, our congregation size continued to shrink and shrink until we were left with only about the number of people we started with.

Even though it may seem like I shouldn’t have felt rejected when all these people left the church, I did. I felt like they were rejecting me personally. So I continued trying to do what I knew to do: prove my value to them so that they wouldn’t leave. Yet, no matter how hard I tried, they continued to slowly walk out the door. It was at this point that I really began to understand where my value really comes from and the secret to retaining it.

The Secret to Retaining Our Value


Whose assessment of your value holds the most weight for you? Your parents? Your friends? Your boss? Your coworkers? Your classmates from elementary school? Church people? The random person who says you’re a piece of crap? Now ask yourself another question: Do any of these sources actually have the authority to assign you value?

Did people like my fourth grade classmates actually have the authority to determine my value? They seemed to think they did. But did they really? Or were they simply overstepping their boundaries?

In the same way, I ask you to consider the same question with the people in your life who are trying to determine your worth. Do these people actually have the authority to determine your value, or are they doing nothing more than overstepping their boundaries?

When I was in the midst of feeling rejected by some of the people at our church, God showed me something which was completely groundbreaking for me: They, nor anyone else, have the authority to determine my value. Many different people, including me, can try to determine my worth, but their opinion doesn’t hold any weight to God. My opinion doesn’t even hold weight to God. He is the sole appraiser of my value. If he says I’m valuable, then I’m valuable. If he says I’m not valuable, then I’m not valuable. It’s really that simple.

But my transformation wasn’t done yet. God now had the challenging task of helping me to understand why I was valuable to him. For many years, I thought God operated like us in that I would only be valuable to him if I met some of his needs. So naturally, I’d spent years doing a host of need-meeting activities for God. I was reading my Bible every day, praying every day, going to church every Sunday, serving in countless ministry roles through my local church, and serving “needy” people in my community. This is where he showed me yet another groundbreaking discovery: He doesn’t have any needs.[1]

Think about that for a minute. God doesn’t have any needs. This was a major problem for me because if God doesn’t have any needs, then there’s nothing I could do to become valuable to him. Yet he says over and over again that there are people who are valuable to him. What makes these people valuable? This is where God once again showed me another groundbreaking truth: He has chosen to assign value to his people, not because of anything they do, but simply because he chose to do it.[2]

Let me put it in more practical terms: Nothing you do–no hand raising, prayer praying, aisle walking, self-righteous actions, etc.–can give us more value in God’s eyes.[3] How could they if the value he assigns to us isn’t based upon anything we do?

I don’t know about you, but this knowledge gives me a great sense of assurance and peace. If God assigns value based upon his sovereign will and not as a result of something I do to earn it, then I never have to worry about potentially losing my value when I lose my ability to meet the needs of some pie-in-the-sky, less-than-sovereign deity.[4] God will never look at me the way the NHL general managers look at Jaromir Jagr.

Lastly, if God assigns us value based on a decision he makes, then there’s also nothing anyone else can do to take my value away. They can try all they want, but they’re going to fail every single time because they don’t have the authority to determine my value. Only God has that authority. This is great news!


So are you valuable? Only God knows the answer to that question. But one thing I can say is that if you belong to God, then you are valuable to him, not because you did anything to earn it, but simply because he says so. And if he says so, then it’s true because he is truth.[5] If this is you, then you don’t need to listen to all those other people who are trying to tell you how worthless (or valuable) you are; they don’t have the authority to make that determination.


[1] The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. – Acts 17:24-25
[2] When Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad–in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls–she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” – Romans 9:10-13
[3] For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9
[4] All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. – John 6:37-39
[5] Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

What Makes Me Better Than You?




Introduction


It’s no secret that the United States is experiencing its fair share of conflicts involving racism, bullying, and social cliques. Unfortunately, it’s surfacing in ways which grieve all of us.

As I’ve explored this topic in depth over the past few months, I’ve come to the conclusion that the heart of the issue isn’t racism, bullying, or cliques. The issue isn’t that the “bad guys” are just doing their thing. I don’t even think hate is at the center of the conflicts. I think there’s something much deeper than any of these things and the goal of my exploration on this topic is to dig through all these layers in order to get to the real heart of it.

Is There a Racist in Me?


No one wants to be called a racist. Being a racist has a negative connotation to it. As far as I’m aware, I’ve always been very accepting of people, regardless of what skin color they are or what country they’re from. Yet as part of my exploration, I decided to do some introspection into my own life to see if I’m a racist.

What is a racist? According to Merriam-Webster, racism is “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”[1] When I apply this definition to my own life, I don’t see any belief I’ve ever had which says that I’m superior to anyone else simply because I’m Caucasian or American.

But I’d be foolish to end my exploration here. Let’s pull a concept out of Merriam-Webster’s definition in order to write a much broader definition of racism: racism is a belief that certain differences make me better than other people.

I don’t know about you, but for me, this definition of racism hits much closer to home. Ever since I can remember, I’ve believed that things about me make me better than other people such as being tall, having a rare personality type, getting good grades, being busy all the time, being smart, having a B.S. in civil engineering, having a M.A. in Christian Ministry, being married, being a Christian…and the list could go on and on.

Although my belief may not have anything to do with skin color, the principle is the same. It seems that there’s something I gain from believing that I’m better than other people. What is it?

Why Do I Want to be Better than Everyone Else?


As far back as I can remember, I wanted to not just be good at everything, but I wanted be the best. I didn’t really care what I was the best at…I just wanted to be the best at something. I learned every math flash card and would regularly win games of “around the world” in math class. When we had a competition to read the most books, I read more books than I can remember in order to be the best reader. I spent hours throwing a tennis ball up against the brick wall of our house in order to become one of the best baseball players in West Carrollton’s Little League baseball.

Why wasn’t it good enough for me to just be good at something? Why did I feel the need to be better than everyone else? I think I tried to be best at something because that was how I felt valuable.

Do you remember when your gym teacher would pick two people to be team captains and then those two people would proceed to pick people to be on their teams? It was quite an honor to be the first pick and quite humiliating to be the last pick. I even remember team captains fighting over who had to take the last pick. Looking back on these events, I can’t even begin to imagine the pain that some of the kids felt who always got picked last.

Back to where I was going with this. If you ever had the honor of being picked first, maybe you felt like the reason you were picked was because the captain thought you were going to make a big contribution to the team. Or maybe you felt like you were picked first because the captain liked you more than he liked everyone else. Regardless of why you thought you got picked first, being the first-overall pick makes you feel valuable.

Feeling valuable is, I believe, really at the heart of racism, bullying, and social cliques. We all have a desire to feel valuable. And the way we feel valuable is when we feel like we’re better than other people. Therefore, I think the desire to feel valuable drives the undesirable racist, bullying, and social clique behaviors we exhibit.

Is Anyone Better than Anyone Else?


Although I’d like to dig deeper into understanding the desire to feel valued, it would distract from the rest of this discussion, so I’ll save this discussion for next week. In the meantime, I want to investigate whether any of our differences make us any better than anyone else.

In each of the following examples, which of the two would make you a better person?

·         Are you better if you’re introverted or extraverted?
·         Are you better if you save your money or spend your money?
·         Are you better if you smoke or if you abstain from smoking?
·         Are you better if you’re a homosexual or if you’re straight?
·         Are you better if you have sex before you get married or wait to have sex until you get married?
·         Are you better if you get up at the crack of dawn or sleep until noon?
·         Are you better if you’re busy or not busy?
·         Are you better if you exercise regularly and eat healthy or if you watch TV while eating potato chips?
·         Are you better if you’re religiously affiliated or religiously unaffiliated?
·         Are you better if you stay home with the kids or have a job?
·         Are you better if you climb the corporate ladder or if you continue doing the same job for forty years?

On how many of these questions was it obvious which one of the two answers was better than the other one? Most of them? Some of them? Or hardly any of them?

Personally, I don’t think any of these things make anyone any better than anyone else. Certainly some of these things can lead to more success in the American business world, but none of these things makes anyone better than anyone else.

I think the Bible says it best: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return…” (Job 1:21). We are all born with nothing and we all leave with nothing. We’re all in exactly the same boat. And absolutely nothing we either inherited or do makes us superior over anyone else.


So what makes me better than you? Absolutely nothing. There is nothing inherent or developed about me that makes me better than anyone else. We’re all unique, but none of my differences are any better or worse than your differences.

Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts on this topic? Do you see some of the same patterns in your life? If so, how are you going to respond to this realization?


[1] “Racism,” Merriam-Webster, accessed September 20, 2017, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/racism.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Love Unconditionally - First Strategy for a Successful Marriage



The anticipation is over…well, at least for me. We’ve reached our final, yet what we believe to be the most important, strategy for a successful marriage. Our number one strategy for a successful marriage is: Love Unconditionally. I’ll warn you up front that this article is going to be very challenging for all of us. Nonetheless, let’s dive in!

What Does It Mean to Love Unconditionally?


I’ll start by defining unconditional love. What is love? I love pizza. I love hockey. I love Amy. I love God. We use the word “love” in all of these sentences, yet I know each of them has a different meaning. As I did a few months ago in the second part of my articles on Unselfishness vs. Love, I will again borrow John Piper’s definition of love: “Love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others.”[1] I realize that’s a mouthful and is very different from the way our culture defines love, so take a few moments to let it sink in.

Now let’s take a look at what it means for our love to be unconditional. For something, such as love, to be unconditional means that there are no conditions or strings attached. I know this definition may sound obvious, but most of us don’t really seem to grasp what it means for something to be unconditional, so I’ll illustrate it with an example. How long can you go without your spouse meeting the needs he or she normally meets before you “fall out of love” with your spouse? Could you go a week? Could you go a month? How about a year? How about for the rest of your life? If the love you have for your spouse is connected to how well he or she is meeting your needs, then your love is conditional rather than unconditional. The only way we can call our love for our spouse unconditional is if our love isn’t conditioned upon anything our spouse does or doesn’t do.

Why Is It Important For Us to Love Our Spouse Unconditionally?


In case you missed last week’s post, I’m going to repeat my opening statement: I am far from a perfect spouse. I screw up over and over and over again. Amy would tell you the same thing, not only about me, but about herself. We both recognize that we fail each other all the time. Some of our failures are deliberate, but most of them happen so fast we didn’t have time to think about them until after the fact. If our love for one another was conditioned upon never screwing up, then we would’ve been divorced the same day we got married!

And you know what? Our failures aren’t over. We’re going to continue failing each other every single day of our lives. We’re never going to reach a point where we’re the “perfect” spouse. Because of how much we fail each other, we both need to love each other unconditionally. When we stood on a stage in front of 200 people and said our vows, we committed to love each other for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, and in sickness and health for the rest of our lives. And we intend on doing that no matter what.

Unless you’re God, you’re going to encounter the same issue we did: You and your spouse are going to fail each other over and over and over again. You’re going to do hurtful things to one another. If your love for your spouse is conditioned upon him or her being perfect, then your marriage will be doomed from the start.

How Can We Love Our Spouse Unconditionally?


My short answer to this question is that we can’t…at least not alone. I don’t know about you, but in order for me to really grasp a concept, I need to see an example of it in action. It’s like in math class when the teacher would explain a mathematical concept, and then work some example problems on the board. Unconditional love is no different for me. I need to see it in action.

This leads me to my first idea for how we can love our spouse unconditionally: Experience what it’s like to be loved unconditionally. Now, I’m not saying that we need to expect our spouse to go first in loving us unconditionally. I’m also not saying that we need to enter into a marriage relationship with someone who loves us unconditionally, divorce ourselves from that person, and then go marry someone else so that we can show the new spouse how to love unconditionally. That’d be ridiculous. Instead, what I’m suggesting is that we go to the author of unconditional love: God.

According to the Bible, God’s love for his people is unconditional. If that’s the case, then there’s absolutely nothing his people can do to separate themselves from his love.[2] It’s only when we’ve experienced God’s unconditional love that we’re able to unconditionally love our spouse.

My second idea builds upon the first one. Once you’ve experienced God’s unconditional love, allow that love to spring forth from your heart towards your spouse. The hardest times to demonstrate unconditional love are the times when your spouse hurts you the most, but it’s precisely under these circumstances that your unconditional love for your spouse can shine the brightest.

How about When Your Spouse Cheats on You?


Before I wrap up, I want to make mention of one final thought. Some of you reading this article have been or are in marriages where your spouse cheated on you. And some of you have cheated on your spouse. I’m not just talking about physical affairs here; I’m talking about emotional ones as well. All types of affairs can be very hurtful to both you and your spouse. How do you apply unconditional love in these situations? Unfortunately, I don’t have a silver bullet answer because every situation is different. However, I don’t find anything in the Bible that says God ever calls us to cease loving people, including a former spouse, unconditionally. But that unconditional love will look a lot different after a divorce than it looked when you were married.

If you have more questions about your specific situation, feel free to reach out to me with a message on social media or with an email. I’d love to chat more about it with you.

Conclusion


Today's discussion on unconditional love wraps up my series on our Five Strategies for a Successful Marriage. I hope you’ve been able to take away a few ideas for how to apply these strategies in your marriage. If you’d like to hear more about any of these five strategies or would like me to present one or two more strategies, feel free to drop me a note on social media or via email. I love hearing your feedback!

Lastly, if you’ve got a topic you’d like to hear more about, I’d love to come alongside you in exploring it. Feel free to drop me a note with your topic(s).


[1] John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, rev. ed. (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2011), location 1973, kindle.
[2] See Romans 8:29-39.