You Need a Vision and a Plan to Sing Your Life Song

When our son Taylor was about fifth grade he wanted to learn to play the guitar. Once I got him past the five basic chords I knew we decided to hand him over to a teacher.

We took him to a professional teacher who had a very upscale studio. There he learned songs like “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” He didn’t like playing that on his electric guitar. He was the only student who had an electric. The others played entry-level acoustics. So when recital night came they all played “Mary Had a Little Lamb” together plus “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” When it came time for each of them to play their individual songs most of the kids just replayed what they had played as a group.

Not Taylor. He played “Wipe-Out.” The other dads woke up from their slumber. There was stirring in the room. Grown men were holding up their phones like lighters. I heard them say, “Cool!” “Whose kid is that?” I sold T-shirts and CD’s after the recital.

But it wasn’t until we found John that the guitar learning took off. John came over to our house for the first lesson. Without any fanfare he pulled out some of his gear and put a pedal on the floor.

He asked Taylor, “Do you know what this is?” “No” came the reply. “It’s called a Cry Baby. Let me show you what it does.” John took Taylor’s electric guitar, plugged it in, and let it rip. He bent notes like a contortionist showing off his flexibility. Taylor’s eyes lit up.

John said, “You try it.” He did. It didn’t go as well as when John did it. But he was hooked. John said, “You want to play it like I did? Then practice what I teach you and in about three months you’ll be playing like that.”

Taylor needed a vision of what he could be and a plan to get there.

Maybe you do too. Not for guitar. But for life. In the New Testament book of James the writer does for us what the guitar teacher did for Taylor.

If James had been marketing his teaching he would have drawn a swoosh and written the word poietes under it: “Doer.” The word is the same word we get “poet” from. You look like a child of God when your life creates a song by doing the things he would do. You see, looking at the word informs us. But doing the word transforms us.

Your goal may not be to make music with a guitar. But you were made to make music with your life. Start strumming some notes today.

Question: Who is it you want to look like as a person? What is your plan to get there?

What a Hot Air Balloon Ride Can Teach You about Life

Our road trip took us through Texas to Albuquerque by way of Roswell. After stopping to see the Alien Museum we headed north to the land of Breaking Bad.

I had reserved a sunrise hot air balloon ride for me and my wife. When the alarm went off I started hoping that the balloon would rise easier than I did. But we made it to the Rainbow Ryders corporate office. From there we were taken with the other early morning risers to the launch site.

You learn quickly that hot air ballooning is a team sport. The pilots involved us in the inflation process. Then, as the balloons began to lift, we quickly scrambled inside the basket and gently began lift-off.

We quietly ascended until we were looking down from hundreds if not thousands of feet in the air. It was too late to check the flooring of the basket so I just kept enjoying the view of the sunrise over the Sandia Mountain Range and the Rio Grande Valley.

The flight was so gentle it felt like we weren’t moving. I found a fixed point on the ground and noticed…we weren’t moving. Whispers were floating around the basket so I asked the pilot, “Uh, it seems we aren’t moving? Is that possible?”

He said, “Yes.”

Wanting a little more elaboration I followed up with, “Well, what do we do?”

“We wait.”

“What for?”

“For wind.”

“What if we don’t find any?”

“We will. Then we move up or down.”

I didn’t have anything to write on but I remembered his brief lesson in hot air ballooning. Seemed like some good advice for life.

Sometimes our lives stall out, don’t they? Stuck. No movement. And you wonder if you’ll ever get moving again. If you’re there right now then follow these life lessons from my time in the basket:

  • Don’t panic. Our pilot said getting stalled was not uncommon. It happens. And when it does just relax. Enjoy the view. Look around at the good things you can see.
  • Be watchful for wind. While we watched the scenery around us he watched other ballooners. I was standing by the pilot and he motioned for me to look at one of the other balloons. It was starting to move. He knew it had found a wind current. Sometimes we need to be alert to find what is moving and go there. It may be a job market. It may be a person whose life seems on track when yours seems off. You might need to catch your wind in another place.
  • Make a move. When we were stalled our pilot said, after some time of not moving at all, “It’s time to go either up or down. We’ll have to make a move.” Since the other balloon that was moving was below us we went down. In life there is a time to take a step in some direction. It may be a step of faith but God works with movement. If you’ve been stalled out too long then make a move and see what happens.

Once we moved down we caught the wind current and began moving towards the place our flight would end. Our pilot brought us in to a bumpy but safe landing. And he left us with some good advice for life.

Trust me. I’m not just full of hot air.

Question: If you are stalled out in some area of your life what is the next thing you need to do?



Six Words To Get You Unstuck

The words he needed to hear would not be easy to say or receive. I know. I had heard them before myself. He wanted to get to a certain point in his life. When I asked what was keeping him from getting there I heard the all too common litany of excuses:

  • I’m too busy taking care of everyone else.
  • I don’t have enough money to get out of debt.
  • I try to study but my house is too loud.
  • No one is there to help me even though I’m helping everyone else.

Ever been there? Stuck somewhere on the road of life but the reason you’re stuck is “out there”? That’s when I said what I knew I needed to say but fought against the urge not to say because it would make the air in the room quickly uncomfortable.

I said, “You know, here’s what I’m hearing you say. All the reasons you’re giving for why you can’t get to where you want to be is someone else’s fault.”

As soon as the words came out of my mouth his eyes went to the floor and—credit to him—he said, “Yeah, you’re right. I am responsible for my life, aren’t I?”

Those are six words every person should say every morning: I am responsible for my life. Sure, some have been dealt a tougher hand than others. But whether your parents failed to give you everything you needed or influential people in your life didn’t give you a hand, you are the only one that is responsible for the life you have been given to live.

Jesus came upon a man by a pool one day who had been lame for thirty-eight years. The people believed that when the water started moving it was because an angel stirred it and whoever went in first would be healed.

Jesus asks the man a strange question. “Do you want to be healed?” And the man gave him an equally strange answer. “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.”

  • “I have no one to put me into the pool.” Excuse.
  • “While I am going…” Wait a minute. You had no one to put you in! How are you going?! Victim.
  • “…another steps down before me.” Blame.

If I had been Jesus in that situation I would have said “In thirty-eight years you could have rolled yourself to the edge of the pool, balanced on your side, and plopped in yourself.” (Maybe that’s why I’m not Jesus.)

On second thought Jesus’ question isn’t so strange. If the man gets healed he has to give up his excuses. He has to put his tin cup away and get a job. He has to manage his own life instead of depending on others who have been giving him handouts all these years. (Understand, when his friends told him they’d drop by to pick him up, they really picked him up!)

So Jesus wants him to make sure he wants to be healed. And he wants you to be healed too. We all need some help along the way: some counsel, a loan, or maybe a helping hand. But the people around us are only responsible to us, not for us.

My friend left with a game plan for taking responsibility for his life. And you can too. If you want to change your life and start walking again start with these six words every morning:

I am responsible for my life.

Question: What area in your life are you blaming others or circumstances for? What can you do today to start taking responsibility for that area?


Trade in the American Dream for a Better One

Balki Bartokomous was a character from the TV show Perfect Strangers. Balki was born and raised in the fictional Greek-like island called Mypos. He scraped out a living there as a shepherd and dreamed of a better life in America. So he traveled at age 22 to live with his distant cousin Larry in Chicago.

One haunting line came in an episode where Balki exclaimed: “I’m in debt. I am a true American.”

The phrase “The American Dream” was popularized in the book The Epic of America by James Truslow Adams in 1931. But in that book the American Dream held no promise or even suggestion of extreme success. As he traced America’s rise to prominence Adams recognized the dream that came to be as “that American dream of a better, richer, and happier life for all our citizens of every rank.”

In a Vanity Fair article entitled Rethinking the American Dream David Kamp traces how through the decades since Adams’ book the expectation of that “dream” kept growing. It wasn’t enough to have enough. Eventually successive generations came to believe that they needed to have more or better than the one previous to achieve the “Dream.”

As he so clearly illustrates the “American Dream” has turned into “American Debt.” As credit cards surfaced and Americans could finance their own purchases, consumer debt has risen to where 56% of cardholders carry a balance from one month’s bill to the next. By 1986 the United States had flip-flopped roles from once being the world’s biggest creditor nation to becoming the world’s largest debtor nation.

How can this picture change? Well, you and I probably cannot do much to change the debt the government has rung up. But you and I can make a difference by changing the way we “dream.” Here are a few places to begin.

  • Follow the counsel of Scripture. Of the many passages on money and specifically debt, the writer of Proverbs warns: “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” Unwise debt puts you in the position of a slave. Some debt, when managed wisely, can help you with your available cash on hand. But mostly debt tends to happen when we buy with money we don’t have assuming we’ll have it to pay back the debt tomorrow.
  • Instead of buying something on credit and then repaying save now until you have the money and then go make the purchase. That’s how the earlier generations, before credit cards, had to do it. My wife and I started that practice a number of years ago especially with vacations. At one time we’d take our vacation, put most of the expenses on our credit card, and then spend three to four months paying it off. We made a decision to save first and then use our credit card out of convenience. Once the trip was over we would then pay off the card and not carry a balance from month to month. (We also rack up free flight mileage so that the next time we want to go to Italy we’ll be flying free. That’s already a reality!)
  • Dream a bigger dream than the American Dream. You didn’t think there was one? Let me challenge you to think again. Look at the problems debt has caused in our nation and in personal lives. What would your life be like if you could learn contentment? The Apostle Paul said that he had learned to be content in whatever situation he found himself. He wrote: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

Dream that dream. And let something else define you as an American rather than debt.

Question: What is your personal plan to get out of and stay out of debt?

How a Different Perspective on Conflict Can Change Your Relationships

Conflict is inevitable. What? You wanted me to say that you can skillfully maneuver through life without ever experiencing conflict? Well, I’m not going to do it and so now you are in the middle of a conflict with me.

Better get used to it. We live in a fallen world and conflict is a part of it. Jesus experienced it from the beginning of his ministry. Some of it came from other people’s misunderstanding. Some of it he caused on purpose because he was just being who he was. (For example see Mark 3:1-6 and note verse 6 especially.)

And if Jesus experienced conflict it’s a safe bet we will too. The problem is most people are not good at conflict. Many are conflict avoiders. I know. I was one for a long time. I’d run from conflict as fast as Usain Bolt runs the 100 meters. (In fact, if you had conflict trying to catch me, I might be able to beat him in a race.)

That all began to change when my wife and I were taking a training course on how to help marriages. The person teaching the course told us that the homework assignments the couples would take would lead them into conflict. I remember feeling the anxiety in my own body and thinking, “Why would we want to do that?! We’ll have to clean up the mess!”

But then he began to explain why learning to handle conflict is so vital to a relationship. He wrote three words on the board. At the top was the word INTIMACY. Below that word he wrote CONFLICT. And then at the bottom he wrote WITHDRAWAL.

In short form here’s his lesson. We want intimacy in our relationships. But when conflict surfaces and we don’t deal with it in healthy ways we move to withdrawal. There may be no fighting or no arguing. But there’s no intimacy.

Then he said, “You’ve got to have a different view of conflict. Conflict is just one step away from intimacy.” I definitely wanted intimacy so I started creating a lot of conflict in my marriage until Karen told me, “That wasn’t the point!” (I knew that. I was just hoping she wouldn’t catch on.)

But because she did we started working on how to deal with our conflict. We learned to listen more deeply. Respond less quickly. “Be quick to hear and slow to speak.” We looked for times either of us tended to withdraw and worked on the process of engaging the places of conflict.

One principal to keep in mind is that you can’t avoid the conflict. You can’t move from withdrawal straight to intimacy. Why? Any intimacy you find won’t last because the conflict is still present. You have to go through the conflict that is being avoided to get there.

Conflict is unavoidable in relationships. But intimacy is attainable. Learn to see conflict as a stepping stone that will get you to the intimacy you desire.

Question: How do you and your spouse or close friends handle conflict in the relationship?

Find the Masterpiece that is You

Maybe you heard the story about the painting that was found under a couch recently in a Montecito, California, home. Christina Jones Janssen had a rare masterpiece from the 18th century neatly rolled up and preserved extremely well. And it was stashed away under her couch.

It was a lost piece of art from Miguel Cabrera and the sixth of sixteen casta paintings he created. Casta paintings were a controversial form of art invented in Mexico exploring the Enlightenment Age theme of interracial marriage among Indians, Spaniards and Africans. Cabrera painted only one set and Janssen had one tucked under her couch.

The painting is well traveled, having gone back and forth across the Atlantic over the course of 250 years and 12,000 miles. Because of its rarity the painting would be expected to bring at least $1 million at auction.

And this was under a couch in someone’s house.

You may have a treasure too. Jesus told a story about a Master who gave three servants some talents (a measure of money in that day and age). He gave one five, one two, and one only one. The main point of the story is that he wanted them to use their talents and increase them. The guy who only got one talent just buried his and didn’t do anything with it. He put it under his couch and just let it be stored there.

Paul talked a lot about “gifts” that God has given those who are part of the church—the body of Christ. He says that to each one is given something from the Spirit. Not all have the same gift. But everyone has a gift. And he wants you to know what it is and use it to help others.

If you are a believer in Christ then you have a gift. But maybe it has been sitting dormant because you did not realize you had one. It’s been stashed under the couch of your “unknowing.” You need to pull it out, see what it is, and use it.

Here’s how you can do just that.

  • Read over the possibilities of what could be “missing.” Look at Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. Then Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 4. Get an idea for what can be.
  • Then make a list of the ones that sound like you and seem like a fit.
  • Start using your gift. Give it some time and see if there is any “increase” when you use it. Is someone helped? Served? Encouraged? Taught? The list could go on. If what you are doing is making a difference then you have found your piece of art.
  • Finally, the best way to know you have found your gift is when you bring it out for others to see and they stand back, look at it, and tell you what it is they see in you.

You are a canvas on which God has painted a masterpiece. Check under your couch and see what you may have been missing.

Question: What masterpiece has God painted on the canvas of you?