A Builder’s Parable -Messy Foundations

12250927_mIt was one of those nights you never forget.

Lightning streaked across the sky, first wordlessly and then booming with bolts of thunder which rocked me to the core of my foundations. The rain was driving harder now, the wind whipping it into a sideways frenzy which whirled the torrent of droplets around me like a dizzy merry-go-round. Faster, faster, faster…

The pounding was unrelenting. Wind, rain, lighting, thunder…all seemingly at war with each other whirling around in a mad cosmic chase which ripped at my very core. It was all I could do to stay anchored to my footings.

I remembered when the builder had laid them down. He was an honest man who took real pride in the five homes that he built every year.

Not one to cut corners, he had personally inspected every step of the job, forcing workman to complete the job to his high standards even when they complained that the delays would cost him dearly. It was his reputation on the line and he cut off their protestations with a fierce look.

The foundations for the house across the street had been dug shortly after my builder got started. Yet amazingly, it had been completed ahead of mine. Causing just a little grumpiness for my homeowners. I couldn’t see everything the crew was doing, but they worked fast…mighty fast to get that house ready. Perhaps too fast.

It was hard to see clearly through the inky darkness, but several shingles whipping by my roof line indicated that all was not well. I heard several large crashes and then there was silence. It was as though the wind and rain had simply spent themselves into a muted, angry truce a they ran out of steam.

I couldn’t examine the damage until the sun came up the next morning. I’d lost a few shingles, but overall I was fine albeit a little creaky. A few large branches littered the otherwise pristine lawn which now gleamed with the brilliant green that accompanies a thunderstorm.

Across the street however, a scene of intense devastation was unfolding. Large portions of the roof had been whipped off and an entire corner of the home had simply crumpled into the ground. The foundation wall had shifted and the home looked as though it might topple over at any time. A crowd of concerned onlookers was gathering to survey the damage.

My thoughts drifted back to the wise builder who had had taken such detailed care in laying my foundations. I used to hear him telling his workers that they needed to build as though they were building their own home. In fact, he often refused to build on certain lots when he felt the underlying terra ferma would not be rock solid. Unstable, shifting soil was a guaranteed non starter when it came to undertaking a building job.

I was thankful for the attention had had paid to making sure I had a stable foundation today. I had survived the storm because of it. I had been buffetted by wind, trounced by the rain and beaten silly by the storm, but I had not failed because of a formidable foundation.

Foundations are what anchor us to the earth in a solid fashion. They’re not glamorous. It’s about the basic building blocks of life..and business. The follow-up and follow-through. The simple doing of what you say and delivering beyond expectations. It’s about the phone call, note and thank you card.

Foundations are what ensure that you don’t forget who you work for. They remind you that every part of the process in life, relationships and business is another nail which holds together the priceless treasure of a good reputation.

Yes, this story can be found in a truncated fashion in Matthew 7:24-28. It’s actually commonly refered to as the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builder. Because you see, we’re all architects of our own lives. What we build reveals who we really are. It’s a matter of choice…

 

Strong Food – Super Nutrition

“Because the Lord disciplines those He loves, as a Father the son he delights in.” Hebrews 12:6

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Not all foods are equal.  In fact, today many of the processed foods we eat are not really food at all.  Some are solely the creation of scientists in chemical laboratories mixing together flavor profiles and artificial ingredients to create concoctions that incite the senses through the wizardry of mimicking real food.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of mimicry in the practice of the Christian faith today. I was stunned to hear a statistic that indicates that the average Evangelical Christian who indicates they attend church regularly, visits a house of worship about once a month.  If we were having ‘church’ in our homes, that might not be so problematic.  But, many do not read the Bible on a regular basis and prayer is a real struggle.

I don’t think this is coincidental.  God’s word is spiritual sustenance.  Prayer is like the fuel which charges our souls through connection with God.  Going without both for sustained periods of time is akin to spiritual starvation.  When the assault against vital health has severely weakened the health into bare life support, only watered down nutrition will even be tolerated. So while milk is a complete food and OK for babies who need to be carefully weaned to solids, it was never intended to be the sole or main support of adult nutrition.

A lack of interest in spiritual things – reading the Bible, prayer- often operates in tandem with lots of time for trivial pursuits and mindsets that are at cross purposes with what God desires to grow us into with Strong Nutrition.

Discipline for me is God’s way of bringing me back to my right mind.  We will all go through periods of trials and testing.  That’s just part of life.  However, a test is meant to be passed and the transforming power of God is able to transform the victim into the victor.

This summer has been rough with the passing of my beloved mother and the emotional trauma for our family.  It has been a strong primer from our Heavenly Father to learn about areas which needed attention and reassessment. However, I can also see that God has been disciplining me and my family through this process and I am a different person as a result.  For this I remain humbled and grateful.

Strong food, like strong discipline is not given to the immature.  If God chooses to discipline, it is a sign of His deep love.  He alone knows who you are and who you can become.  Just as a muscle requires exercise and training to strengthen to it’s fullest capacity, so too do Children of God require tuning and pruning to show up and shine right in an increasingly dark world.

The Syndrome of Unfriendly Friends

6974974_sThe term ‘friend’ has been redefined.  So has the word ‘follower’.  Words which used to resonate with richness and endearment have been neutered to a very shallow depth.  How can one have thousands of ‘friends’?  It is not possible, nor healthy.

Yet competitive instincts and desire for perceived popularity drive us to seek, accept and in some cases even buy friends and followers.  While social media is by definition a world which is not real, the issue of friendship is one which cuts deeply into the psyche of what it means to live in relationship with other human beings.

Wounds in the house of a friend...

Zechariah 13:6 says, “And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.”

The above passage speaks to the deception of the false prophets and the judgement of God against deception and hypocrisy.  The prophet was supposed to be someone who spoke God’s truth, a trustworthy representative of the Almighty.  But the office and responsibility had become so watered down that prophets were lying and deceiving people in idol worship to such a degree that the term ‘prophet’ was in reality a misnomer.

Unfriendly friends are friends who are not true supporters.  They may appear to encourage and like you, but the real goal is far more insidious.  Unfriendly friends are users, not givers.  They are also thieves who will steal your resources, time, money, influence and even reputation if provided with the opportunity.  In short, they are not friends at all, but rather the opposite.

Because we live in an increasingly confused world in which orange is the new black and right and wrong are increasingly in doubt – for many, it can be difficult to discern who an unfriendly friend is.

True friends support each other in integrity.  A true friend is not malicious or secretly envious of another’s possessions, popularity or progress.  A real friend is there when things go south and rejoices with you in victory.  Friendship requires a willingness to fiercely protect even when that requires the tough truth.

Proverbs 27:6 Wounds from someone who loves are trustworthy, but kisses from an enemy speak volumes

The Bible says that wounds from a true friend can be trusted.   When we meander off the road into the wasteland of pretense and hypocrisy, the pain of broken relationships may be God’s way of helping us to take stock of who we engage with – causing us to ask deliberate, necessary and sometimes painful questions.

A Seat at the Table: The Gift of Gratitude

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Some time ago, two friends invited me to lunch at their home.  I had gotten to know them through a class that we were involved in.

From the moment I stepped into the home, I knew that this would be an unforgettable experience.  It was a celebration of friendship in which they had lovingly baked and cooked a real feast.  It was such a delight! I was touched by the care and attention they had taken to do something special for me.  It still means a lot even as I remember it so many years later.

I was at their table and they had taken pains to make the experience something they knew I would love and appreciate.  It was a moment of pure pampering for the soul.  I left that luncheon feeling nourished in spirit and body.

Now what if I had sat at the table and not expressed appreciation for the care and attention they had obviously put into the meal?  That would have been rude and mean-spirited on my part.  Not only would I have ruined the pleasure of the meal for them, I would have ruined it for myself as well.  That’s the nature of human interaction. We tend to get out of relationships what we put into them.

In life, we’re often guests at someone else’s table.  And it’s not always set the way we would do things if the table was at our house. It may be a boss who has a different set of expectations than you do or a friend who looks at a situation from a unique perspective.  Regardless of the particular context, the point is this -it’s not our way.

But so what?  Why does it matter?  Why not simply accept the fact that a different way can be embraced and enjoyed simply for what it is. It’s really not about if we’re at my table or yours; it’s about being mature enough to appreciate and cherish what others bring as their unique gift and accepting it for what it is and being OK with what it is not.

No worries…

One of my son’s has a seemingly favorite saying, it’s ‘No Worries’.  It is a reminder to me that worry is something that we can choose to say ‘No’ to.  Worry revolves around the past and the future, both of which are phantoms in the sense that they have already ceased to exist or are yet to manifest.  Spending time in worry and agitating is a grandiose waste of time.

There are always invitations to enter into these types of activities and conversations.  In fact, one such opportunity dropped in on me today via a phone call.  I could sense the irritation and angst, all over realities which had not yet manifested.  A potentially nasty argument in formation and rapidly escalating into a sure depletion of energy…

Somehow, something inside me said, ‘Stop! – No Worries’.  It takes an intentional effort to clear the mind and choose to be in the one and only place we can ever really be, which is the present.  Blessings to you today for the gift of presence during this time of remembrance and gratitude for the sacrifice for those who have given their life, time and treasure in service to our nation.
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The Conundrum: Exploring Why Grand Rapids MI Landed in 51st Place in a Recent Forbes Survey

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I’ll admit it was uncomfortable to see the link to this article float down my Facebook feed citing Grand Rapids MI as a city where minorities are not prospering.  Over the past couple of years, Grand Rapids, MI has topped many complimentary lists with regards to housing price increases, job growth,  community life etc.  So, when Forbes indicated that a recent study ranked the city as one of the worst places for economic advancement for minorities, (Rank #51 amongst 52 metropolitan areas across the nation) it was an unsettling notation to what has seemed to be an unrelenting flow of positive indicators about the area.

Yesterday, the keynote speaker for the Economic Club of Grand Rapids, Dr. John Powell took the issue head on as he challenged the assembled business leaders about the implications of having a community which to some degree regards the ‘other’ as instinctively dangerous, less worthy or even inhuman at a deeply sub-conscious level.  The UC Berkley Law Professor told the audience that racial prejudices guide our subconscious responses and are far more powerful than any conscious programs we might put into place to remedy them.

These prejudices also impact the structures and institutions of our community in ways that are deep below the surface and rooted within the intrinsic foundations of society.  Thus creating environments which make it difficult for individuals who fit into the category of ‘other’ to thrive and prosper.  In real economic terms, minority populations such as African-Americans earn $10,000 – $15,000 less on average in West Michigan than their counterparts in the south.  They are also less likely to be successful entrepreneurs and more likely to struggle academically.

Is this because minority populations are inherently ‘damaged goods’?  Dr. Powell answered the question with a resounding ‘NO’, giving examples of communities which had recognized a pattern of low achievement amongst minority populations and had seen dramatic results in changing the status quo through gaining more understanding of the underlying causes.  One notable example being the city of Atlanta, located in the heart of the South which was a segregationist stronghold.

So, the question remains why is it hard to prosper if you’re a minority living and working in the Grand Rapids area?  I  have worked in the real estate community for almost twenty years.  The sad truth is that there are significantly fewer experienced minority agents today on the local real estate board than when I started in 1995.  When I attend real estate functions at the local, regional or state level, I am often the only minority in the room or one of less than a handful.  At a time when the minority population is on the rise, why is my profession heading in the opposite direction?

In taking a deeper look at this issue, I think that some lessons can be gleaned from a famous parable about a farmer who was sowing seed in different types of soil. Theoretically all the seed had the same potential as it had come from the same bag.  However,  subsequent patterns of growth revealed an important truth – depending on where the seed fell, it either prospered or in some cases withered and died.  In the real estate world, we know that LOCATION matters.  Where your property is located can make the difference between significant margins of profit or loss.  The same truism has relevance for where human beings live in community with one another.

These are the actual words of the parable as told by Jesus in the gospel of Mathew 13: 1-9:

“That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Seed on the Path:  Seed that fell on the path was very vulnerable to being trampled.  Even though the path was likely a dirt path at the time, it had been walked on and become hard and unviable.  Thus making it difficult for even good seed to take root.  There is something to be said about the need to provide a level of acceptance for minority/marginalized populations.  Think about how you behave when you’re out of your normal element.  All of us can recall going to an unfamiliar space and scanning the room to see if there is someone present we can relate to.  A minority person has this type of antenna up all the time.  It can be emotionally and spiritually exhausting.  Creating spaces and opportunities for people to enjoy the simple things of life and get to know each other as human beings can be very instrumental in softening the process of integration from the hard grind of daily life.  Cities, communities and individuals can all do this.  It takes some intentionality, but it’s definitely doable.

Seed on the Rocks:  Seed that fell on the rocks was in for a really hard time.  Rocks are totally impermeable and hostile to growth of anything apart from maybe algae.  But, where there was a little soil, this hardy seed did all it could to cling to life and it sank its roots into the ground.  But, alas the shallow soil could not support the seed and it withered.  That’s what sometimes happens to minorities who find themselves labelled as the ‘one black friend’.  Eager to be accepted and reclaim the humanity of friendship wherever it can be found, we find ourselves absorbed into circles which lack depth and real community.  These are the types of relationships which seem to thrive at work and church, but just about every minority has had the unsettling experience of having your newly found ‘friends’ fail to recognize your smile or eye contact when you meet at the grocery store. Slowly the minority individual recognizes that the relationship does not have the nourishment to truly support what it means to be a friend.  It becomes a rocky, rough and desert like experience to live in this sort of ‘quasi’ community.

Seed on Shallow Soil:  This type of soil is especially dangerous for good seed.  Unlike the rocky soil, it is not initially obvious that this an unfortunate landing pad.  Seed falling on this soil has all the nutrients available in a richly fertile plot of land – up to a point.  It is only when the roots begin to extend for depth and stability that the lie is discovered.  This is not a safe place; there are no deep nutrients to sustain life and this seed becomes very susceptible to the scorching of the sun, often withering up where it is planted and eventually dies.  The unfortunate truth is that many minorities who are actively recruited to Grand Rapids often leave within less than 5 years.  I’ve seen it happen to countless numbers of friends.  Many of whom are highly gifted and educated professionals.  I’ve talked to college professors who share stories of discrimination which are bone chilling.  West Michigan cannot afford to continue recruiting brilliant people of any color only to have them fail to take root and leave.  It’s highly inefficient and incredibly expensive.

Seed on Thorny Soil:  Seed on thorny soil initially grows up strong.  But, this seed has company.  Right there in the same field, the seed is accosted by vicious thorns, weeds that by design will steal the nutrients which the good seed needs and render the good seed useless.  This issue is difficult to remedy, because unless it is recognized early enough, pulling out the thorns will usually result in pulling out the good seed, thus losing a valuable harvest.  However, if the thorns are allowed to grow, the loss of the harvest is guaranteed.  This is what happens when majority communities turn a blind eye to obvious disparities and discrepancies.  Ignoring or explaining in dismissive ways why diversity is absent in a community is nurturing thorns.  Failing to speak up when prejudicial comments and jokes are made in your presence is nurturing thorns.  The refusal to acknowledge the gifts and talents of an ‘other’ simply because they are not like you is nurturing thorns.  The only way to deal with thorny soil is by aggressive weeding thereby dislodging anything that stands in the way of my becoming my ‘brother’s keeper’.

Seed on Good Soil:  Good soil is not perfect soil.  Good soil is simply soil which has the capacity to support growth and nurture life.  Good soil represents spaces in which life thrives.  It is soil which allows the full potential of the seed to be revealed and provide rich benefit.  Communities which are good soil for ALL their citizens will reap a windfall of reward.  Our country is diverse and will continue to become increasingly diverse.  As a result of inter-marriage, almost 60% of Americans are likely to have a member of their family from a different race in the next decade.  We cannot afford to marginalize any citizen and especially when we are competing in a global economy; one in which the top 1% of Chinese students are more than all the students in United States.  Good soil is the rich heritage of a country which was built on the foundation of immigrants who risked everything to come here to make a better life for themselves.  And were allowed to do so.  We must call forth that which is deeply embedded in the psyche of the American Spirit and do what is necessary to provide an environment that supports the welfare, well-being and prosperity for all the good people of West Michigan, including those with whom we do not share a native experience.  I may be a mis-guided optimist, but I believe that Grand Rapids MI is a place where many people care about doing what’s right.