By Patrick G Howard
I don’t normally like to repeat myself, but …
Our last two foci have been centered around James 1:22 – Be doers of the word, and not hearers only. I challenged each of you to ask God what being doers of the word looks like in your business.
Most of the time I get very positive feedback about the Focus of the Month, but the last one was a little different. The response to the focus and the roundtable discussions we had in some of the chapters was tremendous. I heard many great examples of how we can be doers of the word in our businesses. When that happens, I know that my message was what the Spirit wanted me to share. Feeling quite happy with myself, I decided it was time to move on to another verse for our focus.
It happened again!
I was at church a few Sundays ago. Now, that Sunday, I would be singing the offertory with a small ensemble in about thirty minutes, and my mind was really on my performance and not on worship.
If you recall, last time I spoke about my experience at Charlie Johnson’s memorial, and how the message in the eulogy was clearly meant for me. Well, it happened again.
Our first bible reading was from the book of James at the first chapter. I think I could spend a year studying James. This letter is like the book of Proverbs for the New Testament. Written almost two millennia ago, it is just as relevant today as it was then.
In his letter, James addresses problems and practical instructions for living in faith all day, every day, at home, at work and in the community. He addresses problems such as discrimination, lust, backbiting, worldliness, and others. He clearly makes the case that the Christian faith is more than just a principle, but rather a commitment to a way of life.
Now, normally I would listen attentively to the readings, but on this day my mind was on other things. On other things until we reached verse 22 in the reading – Be doers of the word, not hearers only. That is when my mind snapped to attention and could think of nothing else.
It got me thinking that maybe we’re not through with this verse.
Shall we play a game?
Whether you are a master of the links, a despiser of the dogleg, or somewhere in between, there is a philosophy every successful golfer carries in their mental bag of clubs; a mind-wedge if you please.
You must play the ball where it lies.
This is a very simple, and seemingly obvious concept for even the most novice among us, but it is one of the most difficult to execute in golf, or any of life’s endeavors as well. I bring this up because golf is an allegory for life.
Think about it.
Our lives are filled with struggles and disappointments, with a few successes along the course. No matter how many strokes you take during a game of golf, you are only successful of reaching your goal of putting that tiny ball into that little hole 18 times. Even the best golfers in the world only do that an average of once every four times they swing a club.
Talk to anybody who has attempted the game, and they will likely tell you that golf is one of the most frustrating activities you will ever attempt. It is as much mental as it is physical. We celebrate those very few good shots, while we dwell on the last shot that became alligator food. Only the elite golfers ever master the concept of – you must play the ball where it lies.
Where is your ball?
I imagine that in the past month, many of you have attempted to be doers of the word but have let life get in the way. And like a golfer who slices their ball to the depths of Davy Jones Locker on occasion, it is easy to become discouraged with what we perceive as life’s failures and quit trying.
Maybe it’s time for a shift in focus.
Maybe our definition of success is wrong. Maybe, instead of recognizing success as some measurable outcome, we properly focus on the effort as our par for the course. It is easy to dwell on our failures and become so discouraged that we no longer try, but if we focus on making the effort, some of our shots will go in the hole.
My challenge to you …
Play the ball where it lies.
Don’t worry about last month because you lost your ball in the deep rough. Quit looking for that ball, come out of the rough, take your drop and play the ball where it lies. Just make your next swing.
Make every day your next swing.
If today lands in the rough, just play the ball where it lies.
Go out and be doers of the word, and not hearers only.
Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before: On second thought …
By Patrick G Howard
This word is derived from the Latin – inspirare, meaning to breath into. It is also where we get the word – spirit; as in Holy Spirit. I point this out, because when I write our focus each month, it is less my writing and mostly the Holy Spirit’s. There’s one thing about the Holy Spirit; He doesn’t operate on our schedule.
Unfortunately, I have deadlines to make, and I must prepare the Focus on time; regardless of whether I am inspired, or not. Sometimes when that happens, the Focus just isn’t … focused. I think that happened last month, and I would like a do-over. For that reason, our Focus verse this month will be the same as last.
James 1:22 ~ Be doers of the word, and not hearers only.
Let me explain.
A funny thing happened at the funeral.
I am reminded of the memorial service for Charlie Johnston. I have known Charlie for many years, as he is the father of my sister-in-law. I admit that I should have been there in the moment, but it was a long drive to Waxahachie, it was going to be a long drive back, I was already tired, and I needed to be at home writing the Focus.
My mind kept drifting toward what I was going to write about. I don’t know how long my mind had been wandering, but suddenly, my attention became focused on the speaker and topic of this month’s focus became crystal clear.
The eulogy was being given by the grandson of the deceased, who said something that was clearly meant for me. He reminded me of something Charlie used to say often, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” And while this quote is usually attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, I will always think of Charlie. This quote made me think, we all work in a business – either as an employee or as an owner. What better platform is there to preach the Gospel?
Did I just make you squirm in your seats?
I think it’s natural to be afraid of preaching the Gospel to your customers. There are many fears when putting yourself on the line like that. Maybe you’re afraid of being rejected. You might be afraid of ridicule, or discrimination because of your faith. You could be worried about preaching the wrong message. We frequently fear that there may be a government regulation or company policy we are violating by sharing our faith.
The most likely fear is that we will offend our customer. And while it is highly likely that some will be offended, it is equally likely that there will be even more that are drawn toward you because of your courage and conviction. Now, I’m not talking about beating your customer over the head with your bible. Rather, I’m talking about preaching the Gospel at all times through your actions.
There is a company that does just that. I would get little argument when I say that it is one of the most successful in America. Their corporate purpose statement is bold, unashamedly Christian, and on full display for all to see.
To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chck-fil-A.
They make a fine chicken sandwich, to be sure; but their success doesn’t come from the quality of their product. You can get a great chicken sandwich at a number of other places. Rather, their success comes from the customer experience, which all begins with their stated purpose. Their success comes from putting God before their business. Their success comes from being Christians all day, every day, at home, at work and in the community.
There are many who hate Chick-fil-A for their faithful stand and will stop at nothing to help them fail. Try as they may, this company continues to be one of the most successful in the country.
Have you tried to eat there lately?
It feels a little like a game of Frogger just walking between the cars in the double drive-thru lines. And when you get inside, they are packed. But no matter how crowded their restaurant is, the service is always superior. That is why Chick-fil-A does more business in the six days that they are open, than most do in seven.
They are truly an example of how successful a God based business can be.
You may wonder …
Can you build your business to be as successful as Chick-fil-A? Only God knows. Regardless of your measure of success, if you are in business to Glorify Him, you will be successful by the most important measure.
My challenge to you this month is simple. Don’t make any drastic changes in your business this month. Just pray about it. Ask God what honoring Him with your business would look like and ask Him how you can do that. Ask Him how you can preach the Gospel at all times; and to be doers of the word, and not just hearers.
And that is our focus this month.
By Patrick G Howard
Is this year half full or half empty!
Where has this year gone?
It seems like it was just a few weeks ago that we were ushering in a new year. Many of us are still recovering from Snowmageddon. If you’re like me, you are no where near where you wanted to be by this time, but it’s not too late to kick it into the next gear and finish strong.
With that in mind, I would like to share a quote.
This quote has been said many ways and attributed to many people. Frankly, I don’t know who said it first. With that in mind, I am going to attribute it to the person who I believe best embodies the concept – Michael Phelps.
It’s not how you start that matters; it’s how you finish.
Who can forget the incredible finish in the 100m Butterfly Final at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing? The favorite, Michael Phelps did not have the classic Olympic record setting type of race. He got off to a very poor start, and after the turn was in seventh place. It looked to all watching that Michael might not even stand on the podium that night. Surpassing Mark Spitz’ record of seven gold medals in 1972 games seemed completely out of reach. But when all seemed hopeless, Michael started clawing his way back into the race. During the last leg, he inched nearer and nearer the leaders, but as he did the wall was closing in much too quickly for comfort.
That is when something amazing happened.
With about half of the last lap remaining, Michael Phelps started passing the other swimmers. In sixth place … Now fifth place … Now fourth … With only 20 meters left he moved into third place, but there was no way he could do the impossible. The wall was much too close, and the other swimmers were too far ahead of him. With ten meters left, he moved into second place; but there was simply no way he could grab victory tonight.
Then the impossible happened!
With less than two meters left in the race, Michael Phelps gave every bit of effort he could muster; and achieved one of the most incredible finishes of any sport, at any level. Michael Phelps beat Milorad Cavic (who was having an Olympic record setting race of his own). He beat the Serbian by the slimmest of (official) margins – .01 seconds, to surpass Mark Spitz’ thirty-six year old record and win his 8th gold medal in a single Olympic game.
As remarkable as that margin is, the race was even closer. As you might imagine with a race that close, the Serbians protested the results, causing FINA (the sport’s international governing body) to review the finish. They slowed the video as much as possible to determine that Michael Phelps indeed won the race by a margin of .0001 seconds.
Think about it. Only one ten-thousandth of a second separated silver and gold that night. It was that last extra effort that made Michael Phelps an Olympic legend, and made the other guy … What was the other guy’s name?
What happened to this year?
While this story of Michael Phelps isn’t the subject of our focus this month, it is quite relevant to our human nature. We all started out with every intention of making 2021 our best year yet; but if you’re like most, life got in the way. Very few (if any) of us have completed each of the challenges I laid out in our monthly focus this year. Many of us have yet to finish one. And the wall is getting closer by the second.
I can imagine how a preacher feels.
Every Sunday you fire the congregation up with a great sermon, and every Monday those same people have already let life happen. It’s easy to do. In our life of constant distraction, it is difficult to focus on one thing long enough to make it happen. We all know what we need to do, but it’s easier said than done. Isn’t it?
And while it’s easy to beat ourselves up because of what we didn’t do, I think it’s more productive to follow Michael Phelps’ great example and remember; It’s not how you start that matters; it’s how you finish.
Imperfect action always beats perfect inaction.
I think that many times when we procrastinate, it’s because we’re afraid that we’re going to make a mistake; but that thinking is like planning a trip across town and waiting until you’re sure all the lights will be green before you start. When I was young and found myself resisting starting something difficult, my dad would tell me, “Do something, even if it’s wrong.” And while that may not always work out the way you expect (or want), if you’re following our Heavenly Father’s word, it will always be right.
Our focus this month is …
James 1:22 ~ Be doers of the word, and not just hearers.
Reading the word is just the beginning.
In this chapter, James is telling Christian Jews that it is not enough to just listen to the word; you must also put it into action. Later in the chapter, he says that failing to do so is like glancing at your image in the mirror, and then forgetting what you look like when you walk away.
How often have you read the word (or listened to the focus) and thought, “That’s exactly what I needed to hear today?” And then, how often have you forgotten what you read (or heard) an hour later? In our society where we are bombarded with weapons of mass distraction, it is easy to lose our focus and move on to other things; never putting into action the thing we just learned.
My challenge to you this month is this.
Reset your focus. Don’t agonize about what you have (or haven’t done) this year. You can’t do anything about the past, so there is no use in worrying about it. Instead, choose one thing that we have talked about this year, or some other thing if you prefer, and focus on that for the rest of 2021. Put massive action toward making it happen. Make it your mission to accomplish that one thing this year, and then when the new year rolls around, you will be well on your way to making 2022 your best year yet.
And as you are working on your challenge, remember our focus from
James 1:22 ~ Be doers of the word, and not just hearers.
And that is our focus this month.