Of Cows and Hardship

A friend of mine keeps a small herd of cattle on his farm. But before initially releasing the cows to his pasture, he noticed several patches of a weed, Canadian thistle, growing in the pasture. He immediately thought, “I’ve got to get rid of that weed!” Like most thistles, this one also has tiny thorns. Additionally, weeds tend to be invasive and could soon take over a whole pasture.

But as he researched the problem, my friend discovered something he hadn’t expected. While it’s true that cows initially find this thistle’s tiny thorns unpleasant, they toughen to the thorns and will eat it. And eating it yields two great results. First, this thistle contains much higher amounts of protein than the grass in the pasture, so it’s more nutritious. Second, by eating it the cows naturally keep the thistle from spreading. But the key is, they have to put up with the thorns.

Why am I writing about cows eating thistles? Because when faced with hardship, our immediate response is, “I’ve got to get rid of this problem!” But time and time again, hardships, challenges, and problems prove to be far more beneficial in helping us grow than when all is going smoothly and according to plan.

Obviously, there are some hardships or problems in our lives that we need to remove as soon as possible. But sometimes we try to extricate ourselves from a gritty challenge too soon. Perhaps we should at least stop and reflect on a few questions like:

  • What caused this problem? (What do I need to change?)
  • In what ways can I grow as a result of this hardship?
  • What are my peripheral responses to this hardship? (How am I holding up? What impact is it having on: my joy, the way I treat others, or my health?)
  • Where is God in the midst of this crisis? To what extent am I trusting Him?
  • Instead of running from this problem, how else could I respond to it?

Hardships toughen us, stretch us and enable us to grow in ways otherwise not possible. What are the thistles in your life right now and how can you profit from them?

©2017 Rob Fischer

Contentment Is Not Complacency

For a variety of reasons, I feel like my life is at a crossroads right now and I have some decisions to make. But I don’t know yet what those changes should be. In the middle of uncertainty, it’s easy to become discontented, paralyzed and complacent. But that would be foolish!

Instead, in spite of the uncertainty, I’m seeking to be content in my circumstances. Yet at the same time I’m looking to the Lord to guide me into my next steps. Being complacent would get me nowhere but frustrated and would certainly damage my situation and perhaps that of those around me.

The writer of Hebrews urges us, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” (Hebrews 13:5)

Paul also wrote, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11)

Some might think that contentment runs contrary to ambition and the desire to excel and achieve even more. But this not at all what is meant by contentment. Contentment and complacency share no common ground.

Contentment is being at peace with where God has us right now. Being content means that we’re in a state of trusting God to meet our needs and we enjoy a quiet relaxation knowing that He has everything under control. When we’re content, we’re thankful to God and acknowledge His sovereign and gracious provision for all things.

But contentment is not complacency. Complacency is failure to act when we should. Complacency means we accept the status quo in spite of the fact that we know God wants us to do something about it.

Complacency represents the kind of faux-faith that James describes. It’s a faith lacking substance. A faith with no action is no faith. “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17)

Instead, Paul urges, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” (1 Corinthians 16:13 ESV) And, “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

Perhaps you find yourself in midst of change as well. Let’s demonstrate our trust in God through contentment and reject complacency as faithlessness and disobedience.

©2017 Rob Fischer

Growing Old Like Caleb

I turned 65 this year. There are a couple of different ways to take that statement (which is true, by the way).

First, there are a lot of younger people who would think, “Wow! That’s old!” Some of those people might tend to write someone off as being feeble, senile, forgetful, fuddy-duddy, or something else useless.

Others more my contemporary might say with a sense of futility, “Sixty-five, huh? Welcome to the club. Now you can retire, live on a fixed income, take lots of medications, and sit around swapping stories about what ails you.” They see growing old as an inevitable bummer of life.

I’ve begun to realize that a lot of older people become nearly invisible. They no longer matter. They’re not the building blocks of a church, a business, or even a family. They’re consigned to a soft chair in the corner.

I have other plans for growing old when I do. I want to grow old like Caleb. Only Caleb and Joshua had a vision and faith for what God wanted Israel to do: go in and take the land of Canaan. Sadly, because they were in the minority, their votes didn’t count. And so, along with the entire vast company of Israel, Caleb and Joshua had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years—because of someone else’s sin.

But they apparently didn’t let that “minor” (40 years) setback change their view of God or of themselves. Here’s Caleb’s testimony at the age of 85:

Now then, just as the Lord promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the wilderness. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said. – Joshua 14:10-12

God did this because Caleb followed the Lord wholeheartedly (Numbers 32:12; Deuteronomy 1:36; Joshua 14:8). Also, Caleb’s words and claims were not those of a doting old man. He followed through with what he said he’d do and was successful (Judges 1:20). That’s why I want to grow old like Caleb.

Rob Fischer

When Pain & Suffering Come

In my daily Bible reading I currently find myself in the Old Testament book of Job. Although Job’s experience was extreme, I think we can all identify with him in his suffering.

In short, here’s what Job suffered: the complete loss of his entire income due to raiders and natural disaster; the death of all his children (seven sons and three daughters); a very painful disease resulting in oozing sores all over his body; and his wife gave up on him. To top off all of that, Job’s three friends basically told him that God must be very angry at him otherwise he wouldn’t be suffering like this.

But it’s too easy to simply list a set of sufferings without feeling the pain behind them. For instance, for a man to lose his livelihood represents a significant loss. Right or wrong, we link our identity and sense of worth to our work. Job lost it all in one day—gone! The malice, greed and destruction with which those raids were carried out must have added to his grief and sense of loss.

Next, he lost all of his children in one terrible accident. I knew a family who lost all three of their little girls in a plane accident. Their grief and sorrow were immeasurable! How can we even comprehend the depths of such pain and suffering? Surely the horrible pain of losing his children rendered the loss of his income as nothing by comparison. This kind of grief does not simply go away.

Next, Job was inflicted with a disease that left very painful sores all over his body, “from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.” There was no position in which he could find comfort. Everywhere was excruciating pain. Job describes his disease, “My body is clothed with worms and scabs, my skin is broken and festering.” (Job 6:5)

The text says that job sat on a pile of ashes and scraped his sores with a piece of broken pottery trying to get some relief. Even sleep provided no respite from his sores. “The night drags on, and I toss and turn until dawn.” (Job 6:4)

Add to all that his wife’s desperate, but cruel response to him, “His wife said to him, ‘Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!’” It’s true, when we suffer deeply, often those around us—even our loved ones cannot understand. In their frustration to know what to say, they come across as shallow and uncaring. Job must have truly felt abandoned.

By now, Job’s pain and agony had overwhelmed him and defined him to the extent that he was without hope and wished for death. He didn’t take his life—but he longed for an end to the pain and suffering. He fantasized with welcoming death as a friend and prayed to God for it. (Job 6)

Finally, Job’s three friends all decided to come “sympathize with him and comfort him.”  When Job’s three friends arrived, they were so appalled at his appearance and disturbed by “how great his suffering was” that none of them spoke to him for a week. They just sat there dumbfounded.

Giving Job’s friends the benefit of the doubt, they probably agonized in their own way over the condition of their friend. But their response to this suffering led to foolishness.

Job’s friends could not comprehend how God would allow anyone to suffer like this for any other reason than sin. Surely Job must have done something horrible—overtly or hidden—to justify this magnitude of suffering. The only justification for extreme suffering had to be recompense or severe discipline for rebellion and disobedience on Job’s part.

The question of why God allows suffering is still a relevant one today. But the answer that Job’s story gives us is not what we might expect. For the question, “How can a loving God allow suffering?” implies either a raging condemnation of God or a feeble attempt at justifying him, which Job’s friends attempted to do.

And yet, by the end of the book of Job, God spoke directly with Job and his three friends. God said to Job’s three friends, “I am angry with you…because you have not spoken the truth about me.” (Job 42:7) Then, get this because it is remarkable, God asked Job to pray for his three friends, “And I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your [Job’s friends] folly.” (Job 42:8)

In the end Job declared to the Lord, “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I…repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:2, 5-6) The magnitude of God’s love and greatness far outshone the depths of Job’s suffering.

In conclusion, when you suffer—and even when you suffer deeply and horribly—know that God loves you more than you can fathom or reason. To believe otherwise is folly. Trust Him, press into Him, lean on Him and pray for Him to deliver you either from or through your suffering. As Job and his three friends discovered, God is so much bigger than our feeble attempts to portray Him.

“The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part.” (Job 42:12)

 

©2014 Rob Fischer

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How to Survive Difficult People

When I Googled “stress at the holidays” it yielded 94,900,000 results! So perhaps it’s an understatement to say that the holidays with all their fun and festivity also produce a jolly good amount of stress!

I would venture to guess that one of the key factors inducing stress at this time of year has to do with people and relationships. Relational strife generates stress like nothing else does. And during the holidays we often find ourselves spending time with relatives or co-workers whom we would categorize as difficult.

Difficult people are inevitable. We must simply recognize that some people are: self-absorbed, insecure, needy, wounded, contrary, abrasive, or socially inept. That’s where many people find themselves for a variety of reasons. Let me offer some tips on how to survive those encounters.

First, don’t react to difficult people. When people are being unpleasant toward us, if we respond in kind, we take on their character. We become like them, exhibiting the same behaviors toward them that we find so repulsive. Instead, maintain self-control and make it your goal to brighten their day.

Second, change your mindset toward difficult people. Our immediate response toward difficult people is a feeling of superiority. We see ourselves as better people than they are. Instead, we need to humble ourselves. What if they find us as difficult to get along with as we find them? Do we really have our act together? We need to take a large dose of humility and let it do its work in us and those around us.

Another way we can change our mindset toward difficult people is to believe the best of them. Perhaps we’ve allowed ourselves to be poisoned by the gossip of others about this individual. Or have we jumped to a wrong conclusion about them based on one or two unfortunate incidents? Believing the best of others can often be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

We don’t hear much about the Golden Rule these days, but it refers to treating others as we would like to be treated. Practicing the Golden Rule can also change our mindset toward difficult people.

Be polite and cordial. Look for something good about this person and focus on that. Look for common ground to launch a conversation or relationship. Avoid confrontation at all costs—simply refuse to argue. Do something kind for this person expecting nothing in return. Compliment them on something—anything: their clothes, their child, their car, their home, anything.

“Gracious words are like honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” – Proverbs 16:24 NIV.

Who knows maybe you’ll even find a friend in this difficult individual.

 

©2013 Rob Fischer

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Forgiveness–the Path to Peace and Joy

I can’t think of anything more stressful or emotionally draining than interpersonal conflicts. When we are in conflict with others, our minds are consumed with our pain and their cruelty. Our pride wells up within us and the last thing we want to do is initiate reconciliation with the offender. And yet, that is precisely what we must do.

Someone has said, “Harboring bitterness toward someone is like poisoning ourselves while hoping the offender will die.” Bitterness and withholding forgiveness acts like a force-field preventing us from experiencing peace and joy that could otherwise be ours.

In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sinned against us.” Forgiveness is a gift from God. None of us deserves forgiveness. Forgiveness cannot be earned. Yet God in His grace and mercy extends us full forgiveness and reconciliation through Jesus Christ when we ask. We cannot earn forgiveness and we err when we expect others to earn forgiveness from us.

When we extend forgiveness to others we are simply offering them what Christ has already given us. Offering forgiveness is holy work. “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:20 NIV)

Finally, if we have a problem with one of God’s kids, we’ve got a problem with God. Jesus charged us, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you,leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24 NIV)

Forgiving someone and asking their forgiveness frees us from the prison of bitterness and hate and opens the door to peace and joy. Is there someone in your life to whom you need to extend forgiveness today?

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32 NIV)

©2013 Rob Fischer

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What Does a Leadership Coach Do?

 

A couple I know raises draft horses. I was amazed when they explained to me that one draft horse can pull 3,000 pounds of dead weight. That’s a lot! But get this, when two draft horses are yoked together as a team, they can pull 8,000 pounds of dead weight! That’s the power of partnership!

King Solomon said it like this, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.” Ecclesiastes 4:9 (NLT) Why would we want to struggle through the issues of life alone when we can accomplish so much more in partnership with someone else? A partnership with a friend or a mentor is a huge step in the right direction, but they may not have the right skills to move us forward.

Professional coaching provides a strategic partnership with an individual to help them succeed. A professional coach has completed extensive training and practice and has demonstrated skill in coaching competencies. Coaching is a proven process for improvement!

As a leadership coach, I have the privilege of partnering with individuals for a variety of reasons. Some may feel “stuck” in a job or career; others recognize they’ve become “stagnant” in a job that they still enjoy; others may be launching and building a new church or business; others want to take their relationships to the next level; and many simply want to strategize and take their next steps toward accomplishing a major goal or project. They all have one thing in common: they want to move forward!

When I coach someone, I coach “the whole person.” What I mean by that is that we are integrated beings. What happens in one area of our lives impacts other areas as well. When we desire to move forward in one area of our life our movement forward will be influenced by factors in other areas. We can’t ignore those other factors, for they can either work for us or against us. All areas of our lives must work in concert.

As a Christian coach, I find this integrated approach not only effective, but very enjoyable. Coaching enables me to serve people in all areas of their lives including helping people move forward in their relationship with Christ. And as they draw closer to Christ, they win in their other relationships, and improve their skills, capacity and perspective on life. In the end, the one thing they set out to accomplish materializes in a succession of wins and real personal growth. Coaching really works!

©2013 Rob Fischer

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Ancient Business Wisdom

One of the wisest and richest men of all times opens up the treasures of his wisdom for us in Ecclesiastes. For the past few days I’ve been admiring three of these gems from chapter 11.

Ship your grain across the sea; after many days you may receive a return. Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight; you do not know what disaster may come upon the land. (Ecclesiastes 11:1-2)

Two things strike me from this first passage: first, if we want a return we must take risks. Imagine the context in which this was written. The merchant placing his grain on a ship did so knowing he might lose it all; or, he might gain a handsome profit. But without sending his grain off on the ship, he would never know. We must take risks to receive a return.

This passage also contains the balance to that risk. Diversify investments. Or from the standpoint of the entrepreneur, invest in multiple streams of income. This warns against the “all eggs in one basket” approach.

Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap. (Ecclesiastes 11:4)

This verse hits human nature between the eyes. There will always be plenty of excuses—a multitude of reasons—why we shouldn’t venture out. If we keep our eyes on those reasons, as convincing as they appear to be, we will never take the first step. Rather than focusing on circumstances and all the reasons why we can’t do something, we need to hunker down and do it. “Fortune favors the bold.”

Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well. (Ecclesiastes 11:6)

Be diligent. Persevere. Work hard. We are so fixated on success, that we often fear attempting something that might fail. And if it does fail, we think we have failed—that we’re a failure. But there are many ventures in life for which there is no guarantee—most, in fact. But one thing is sure—if we don’t sow, we won’t reap—period.

Behind these gems of wisdom there’s a prevailing theme in Ecclesiastes that instructs us to trust God. He loves us and provides for us. All we have comes from Him. He is there to comfort and encourage us when our ventures fail.

When God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. (Ecclesiastes 5:19)

©2013 Rob Fischer

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Are You Coasting?

Have you ever felt like you’re coasting in life? I have. I describe coasting in life as: a phase in which we find ourselves complacent and unmotivated. We’re content merely to rely on our past efforts. And the worst part is that we’re comfortable with that.

Coasting requires no effort. We’re simply “going with the flow,” following the path of least resistance. In the coasting metaphor that path is always downhill. We’re on a descent usually to something undesirable and often to something not honorable.

I’m not talking about a brief rest from our labors to recharge. The coasting I’m talking about is deceptively tempting because it’s so easy. Coasting is momentary pleasure at the expense of past effort and future advancement.

Coasting deceives us into thinking that we’re simply maintaining. But coasting has a way of using up very quickly any summit we had gained. The heights we may have struggled to achieve, we so rapidly lose when coasting.

When we are coasting, we are not in control. Gravity is. We are yielding to other forces that pull us downward. And we willingly allow it. Coasting may feel fun and rewarding at first. This is part of its deceptive lure.

A truism of all coasting is that we eventually come to a standstill. We run out of “hill” as it were and find ourselves immobile at the bottom. This is not a good place to be if we want to go somewhere and achieve something worthwhile.

Solomon, incredibly rich and powerful, could have easily succumbed to coasting. Instead, he challenges us, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” (Proverbs 4:23-27 NIV)

Paul, as an old man and chained in a Roman prison, could have easily given up and coasted. After all he had accomplished so much for God’s Kingdom. Yet he urges, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14 NIV)

  • What challenges are you currently facing?
  • Where is your life out of balance?
  • In what areas would you like to experience greater fulfillment in life?
  • What dream for your life would you like to see realized?
  • What significant goals would you like to pursue?
  • What is God calling you to?

Never give up! You’re not alone. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

 

© 2013 Rob Fischer

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Perfect Peace

Isaiah 26:3-4 (ESV) reminds us, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.” Unpacking this passage reveals that “perfect peace” results from focusing our minds and trust on the Lord.

The emphasis here is not on our ability to focus and trust, but on the character and nature of God. Namely, He is trustworthy and He is our “everlasting rock.” The fact that God is our “everlasting rock” speaks to the permanence of His ability to shelter us and provide a firm foundation regardless of the storms that assail us. That He is trustworthy, or worthy of our trust, speaks to His desire to keep us in His perfect peace. We need to know that He is not only able but willing to help us.

But we are not passive in acquiring perfect peace. We direct our minds to the Lord and stay focused on Him. We trust Him, looking to Him for every need including the “perfect peace” that we desire. Our work in securing this “perfect peace” is not like the struggle of a person rowing against the wind and waves. Our work is more like the person who adjusts their sail to catch the wind and be carried along by God’s grace.

Jesus explained, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

©2013 Rob Fischer

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