Thursday, April 12, 2012

God Doesn't Say Oops!

God doesn’t say oops… He doesn’t make mistakes. While many may say they understand and agree with the premise of this statement, most do not live as though they do. It’s as if we believe He is perfect in everything He does or did with the noticeable exception of how He created us! When it comes to us, many behave as if God said oops or made a mistake somehow, even if they do not intend to do so or consciously decide to think or act in such a way. Before getting too far into this, I will try to build the case that God doesn’t make mistakes.

God is said to be sovereign, meaning His rule and authority is unquestionable. If we believe this is the case, doesn’t it make sense that God could not make a mistake or say oops since whatever He decided to do or create would be unquestionably right? God is said to be omnipotent, meaning all powerful. If we believe this is the case, doesn’t it make sense that if God did somehow make a mistake or say oops He would correct it and thus eliminate the mistake? God is said to be omniscient, meaning all knowing. If we believe this is the case, doesn’t it make sense that if God did somehow make a mistake or say oops, He would know it before it was created and correct it before it was created and thus eliminate the mistake?

In Psalms 139:14 David recognizes that he is fearfully and wonderfully made and that he is the marvelous result of God’s handiwork. David comes to this understanding about himself in spite of his many failures, shortcomings, physical limitations and blemishes. Everything that God created, including humanity, He said was good or very good. (Genesis chapters 1 & 2) He did not rest from His creative efforts until all that He created lived up to His exacting standards and defined specifications. Simply put God doesn’t make mistakes and He didn’t say oops after He created us!

Recognizing that we are just what God had in mind when He allowed us to be conceived should be empowering to us! It should position us mentally, emotionally and Spiritually to achieve all that we were created to achieve, without excuse or apology. One of my favorite versus of scripture is found in Jeremiah 29:11 where God reassures Jeremiah that his life was on purpose and with an intended end.

“For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” (KJV)

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV)

Because we experience hardship in our lives and even fail from time to time, does not diminish in any way the thoughts that God has for our lives, nor does it have to alter our expected ends! God was aware of every misstep we were going to take before we were formed in our Mothers belly. Yet, He still chose to give each of our lives value, purpose and meaning.

So with this understanding, we should stop making excuses for why we are not achieving and excelling in life. We have everything we need to accomplish the great things we were created to accomplish. My High School basketball coach Harvey Kitani had a saying that used to make us all laugh at the time, but now I get it! He would say “If you’re going to sit on the toilet, do something! Don’t just sit there and blow farts all day!” Of course you can see why we laughed uncontrollably as a group of inner city 16 – 18 year olds. But now, I get it. Do something with your life and the time you’ve been given, don’t sit around making noise, creating excuses, but in the end not really doing anything.

Look, some of us don’t have the greatest set of circumstances surrounding our nativity. There are many of us who were conceived in less than desirable conditions. I’m not just talking about natural conditions and surroundings. Some of us are the products of rape, fornication, adultery, etc. Many of these individuals carry around the stigma and shame of their conception circumstances and are often too embarrassed to speak openly or share with others their family history for this reason.

Truthfully, it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are surrounding your conception, who your mother and father are or even if you know them! What does matter is that God knew the circumstances surrounding your conception and still declared of you that your life was on purpose and going to serve a purpose. It was not a mistake that you were conceived, no matter what your parents or other may have told you… God never told you that!

Who told you that you were naked? God never told you that, just as He never told Adam and Eve they were naked in the garden. God doesn’t see us the same way others may see us. Others see us and declare we are naked or a mistake. God sees the same thing and does not see nakedness or a mistake, He sees the beauty in what He created…and so should we!

So what’s the moral of this story? God doesn’t make mistakes… He didn’t say oops when He created you…so do something meaningful and productive with your life. Go out and achieve your goals and dreams and fulfill the purpose God had in mind before you were a twinkle in your daddy’s eye!

One more point I’d like to make before wrapping up this blog post…since God doesn’t make mistakes or say oops when He creates us, we need to stop making changes to what God created. How do you improve upon something that is already just the way it should be? You can’t! The moment you start messing with it is the moment you start messing it up.

I believe we were fashioned to look just the way God wants us to look. I am a strong advocate of keeping things pretty natural. I’m not a big fan of things artificial or altering natural things, especially when it comes to our bodies. Every time we make modifications or incorporate artificial things to our bodies, we are in essence telling God “I don’t like what you created, so I’m going to change it into something I like”. Or “What you made wasn’t good enough, so I’m going to fix it and make it better”.

I know for some, we probably have never looked at it quite this way, but that is essentially what we are doing and it’s an insult to God. Let me give you an example. I am a bit of a steak snob…yes, I’ll admit it…I love a well prepared steak, and only order steak from the best restaurants or cook them myself at home. When I go to a steak restaurant, I order my steak, usually a USDA Prime Rib Eye cooked Medium +. Once the steak hits my table, I will eat it as it is served, because that was the way the Chef intended for it to be consumed. If I were to add anything to the steak, I am saying to the Chef “You did not prepare it to my liking” or “The way you prepared my steak is not very good”.

The Chef started out with the very best cut of steak available. Seasoned it the way they thought would bring out the best flavors of the steak. Cooked it to perfection and then served it to their guests for their enjoyment. Add extra salt…ruined it! Add steak sauce…God forbid! Anything you do to the steak after it has been served to you changes it from what the Chefs original intent was. Now, don’t blame the Chef if the steak is nasty after everything you did to it after it was brought to you! That was your doings, not the Chefs!

I hope you can see the parallel in this example. God started out with the very best He could get His hands on…YOU! Seasoned you through all of your life’s experiences. Cooked you to perfection by allowing you to go through just enough for just the right amount of time… not too long so that you would become tough or too little where you would be overly sensitive and raw. God is a master Chef and knows exactly how to prepare our lives and to present us faultless before His presence with exceeding joy! (Jude 24) All we have to do is leave it alone and not mess up what God is creating. No need to add or take away from our bodies, alter or modify what God has blessed us to have, etc.

We should do what we can to take care of our bodies, showing an appropriate level of respect and appreciation for Gods handiwork. Imagine having a fine, rare and expensive piece of art that you have just laying around in the garage getting dusty and damaged. That doesn’t show an appropriate level of respect for the work of art nor for the artist that created it. Not to mention the damage being done to something that should be preserved and cared for.

This is how we should look at our bodies. They are fine, rare and precious gems that should be preserved and cared for. The Bible puts it this way:

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”
I Corinthians 6:19 – 20 (NIV)

We honor God with our bodies by taking care of them. Eat right, exercise; keep yourselves clean and well groomed. Don’t subject your bodies to things that will do them harm. Drugs, excessive alcohol, violence are all examples of things we should look to protect our bodies from.

We were created in the image of God; can you think of a better image to be modeled after? We show God that we respect the image He created for us by not tampering with that image or trying to put on a different image or face. If someone can look at you and readily tell something about you or on you is not natural, you should rethink if that is the image God intended for you. If God wanted you to have blue, green, hazel, red or whatever color eyes, that’s what He would have allowed you to be born with. I know some may think this is old school. I just believe we should respect what God created.

So, where do we go from here? No need to dwell on the past and what you did to your body in the past… that ship has sailed. All you can do is move forward from here and determine to not allow yourself to be subject to those things any longer and commit to taking care of the body God gave you. Remember, God doesn’t make mistakes, He doesn’t say oops… and He didn’t make a mistake with YOU or say oops when He created YOU to be who and what you are. Live free, without the pressure to have to live up to a false image imposed upon you by friends, family and society. Be the YOU, God had in mind for YOU when He said of YOU I know the thoughts that I think towards YOU… God didn't say oops with YOU!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Response to Alaska Airlines Executives re: Removal of Prayer Cards

Dear Mr. Ayer and Mr. Tilden,

I have been a long time and loyal customer of Alaska Airlines since 1995 (Mileage Plan # XXXX1980). I am certainly not your longest tenured customer nor greatest frequent flier by any stretch, but have enough experience with Alaska Airlines to comment credibly on the change announced below. (Currently greater than 460,000 lifetime miles on Alaska Airlines) It is my hope that my comments are received by each of you for your contemplation, though I do not anticipate at this point a change in your decision will be made. I can appreciate the amount of time and thoughtful consideration each of you along with your staffs placed into making this decision. I am confident many hours of discussion, data gathering and analysis, consultative input received and the like contributed to the outcome shared in your note below.

I cannot imagine there was a purely economic driver which compelled Alaska Airlines to discontinue distributing the prayer cards as you call them. I would suspect the cost to produce them are fairly nominal to insignificant in the overall cost structure of your Airlines. Consumer behavior in the Airline industry, as in most service oriented industries, I would expect is typically based upon convenience (availability of flights in your case), price and service. So while there may be some, I do not believe there are an appreciable number of customers that have chosen not to fly with Alaska because of the prayer cards or that fly the airline because of them. I am of the same or similar opinion with this decision to eliminate the prayer cards. You will likely not see an appreciable increase in the number of passengers that choose Alaska because of the prayer cards nor those that will no longer fly the airline because of their removal. Any impact there would be is likely negligible and would offset one another. So I do not see this as an economically driven decision.

To be completely honest with you, I was surprised and impressed the first time I saw them in 1995. In a time of political correctness, I was surprised and impressed to find a private sector, non-religious entity with the courage to stand upon and publicly display their commitment to Godly principles. At first I thought it was something that was temporary or a promotional activity. As my travels with the airlines increased and I continued to receive them I realized this was not a mere Marketing scheme, but the airline was truly committed to values derived from Biblically based principles. I always found the cards to be tastefully presented, not an over the top or in your face offensive attack upon the religious or moral values of anyone. They were simply positive, motivating and inspirational Psalms as I recall. How refreshing!

Now, I can appreciate that there are many travelers with Alaska Airlines of varying religious backgrounds and affiliations. I can also imagine that some of those passengers filed complaints with the airlines about the prayer cards. After having received enough of these complaints, I’m sure you were compelled to give consideration to discontinuing the practice. I am saddened to see that in an effort to be inclusive and considerate of alternative views, that Alaska Airlines has acquiesced and abandoned a 30 year tradition that spoke as much about the Airlines and its values as it did about broader American ideals. I would have preferred to see Alaska take the courageous position, though perhaps not the most popular one, and stand behind this simple and tasteful expression of the basis of their values.

Now, my entire position, I must admit, presupposes the prayer cards are truly more than a 30 year old Marketing scheme that has run its course and that they truly reflect something more intrinsic about Alaska. If I am in error, then I have little objection to the removal of the prayer cards. However, if the premise of my thoughts are sound, though Alaska Airlines may not be defined entirely by the prayer cards, pressure from a minority of society should not be profound or leveraging enough to manipulate this change.

As I stated earlier, I do not anticipate my note will alter the course that was made public today. Nor do I anticipate it will have a material impact on my travel decisions as they are derived, like most consumers, based upon the criteria I shared earlier. However, something that once differentiated Alaska from other airlines in my mind is now gone and it has, in many degrees, truly become fungible. Fortunately for me, I will be travelling First Class on the eve of January 31st, just in time to hopefully receive one of the very last pieces of Alaska Airlines history that carried value for at least one of its most traveled patrons.

My sincerest thoughts and prayers will be with each of you and Alaska Airlines as you, along with many other American organizations, navigate the onslaught of attacks waged upon your values. All the best…

Original e-mail from Alaska Airlines CEO Bill Ayer & President Brad Tilden

You Can Still Achieve 2012  MVP Status

Dear Michael,

At Alaska Airlines, we have provided prayer cards to our customers for more than 30 years. A former marketing executive borrowed the idea from another airline and introduced the cards to our passengers in the late 1970s to differentiate our service.

The cards have been provided only to our First Class customers since meal tray service ended in coach six years ago. Beginning February 1, 2012, however, we'll be eliminating the cards entirely. This difficult decision was not made lightly. We believe it's the right thing to do in order to respect the diverse religious beliefs and cultural attitudes of all our customers and employees.

Some of you enjoy the cards and associate them with our service. We also know some of you consider the cards to be a tradition that reflects your own spiritual beliefs. At the same time, we've heard from many of you who believe religion is inappropriate on an airplane, and some are offended when we hand out the cards. Religious beliefs are deeply personal and sharing them with others is an individual choice.

It's important that everyone know that this decision does not change our core values nor our care for our customers. We'll continue to distinguish ourselves through the pride and professionalism of our people on every flight and in our communities.

Our priority at Alaska is to fly our passengers to their destinations safely, on time and with their bags. We thank you for the opportunity to serve you and for the chance to demonstrate this commitment each time you fly with us.

Bil Ayer
Brad Tilden
Bill Ayer
Chairman and CEO, Alaska Air Group
Brad Tilden
President, Alaska Airlines

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Power of Words

For many of us, since the early days of our youth, especially around the time we started Elementary or Grade school, we were taught that words could not hurt us. In fact most, if not all, of us can recite the nursery rhyme that helped to cement this point into our impressionable minds;

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

We were taught this idea, usually in response to the often cruel and malicious attacks levied by children towards one another. It was an effort to help the victims of this cruelty keep from continuing to wallow in the hurt they were already experiencing.

And in fact they are correct… to a point. The weight of words carries very little force at all. In fact, the substance of words struggles to blow out candles on birthdays and aroma therapy candles around bathtubs. In an absolute sense, words do not have the physical capabilities or characteristics to do us any physical harm. They certainly do not possess the strength or destructive force to kill us.

However, that being said, words are certainly a powerful force in the universe and arguably the most powerful natural force found in humanity. The power of words is not found in their physical characteristics, but in their ability to influence humanity to act! Words are so powerful, they can inspire us either positively or negatively.

I am not alone in my assertions on the power of words. Solomon shares this nugget of wisdom with us in Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue”. Note that both death and life, negative and positive outcomes, can be influenced by the words we speak. With the words that we share we have the ability to build up or tear down, to inspire or to denigrate, to motivate or to discourage. The choice is ours.

This is about more than being an optimist or a pessimist, a cup half full or a cup half empty person. Our words have the power to reshape the lives of those we speak them to, either for better or for worse. It’s fine if we choose to be pessimistic with our own lives, but when we allow that pessimism to influence others through the words we speak into their lives, we become a destructive and in the extreme a deadly force.

How many dreams, ambitions and hopes have been summarily executed by the firing squad of discouraging, depressing and damnable words? What about the confidence, esteem and sense of worth that were ruthlessly assassinated by demeaning, dispiriting and disheartening words. Our communities, families and churches are littered with corpses that have been laid waste by words.

Relationships have been slaughtered because of what someone said, or what someone said someone said. Marriages massacred by the hateful words shared in moments of anger, anguish and anxiety. Pastors murdered by their congregations because of the divisive words of the divisive in their midst. Yes, I’m afraid Solomon was true in his assertion that both death and life are in the power of the tongue. But, why is this? Why are words so often destructive? Why does Solomon say Death and then Life are in the power of the tongue? Why death first? Is there any significance to the presumptive order? I believe there is.

The New Testament writer James, perhaps more than any other biblical author speaks to the nature of words and their motivation. In the 3rd chapter of his epistle, James describes the tongue of humanity as a fire, a world of iniquity, a source of defilement for the body, unruly, untamable member of our bodies and filled with poison. (James 3:5, 6, 8) Think about it this way, our tongue… the words we choose to express… often come from undisciplined, uncensored and unforgiving mouths. James calls it unbridled tongues in 1:26.

In other words, we often speak out of our frustration, disappointment or anger and say destructive things. Once those words have left the barn of our mouths, they can never be corralled. As I like to say, that shipped has sailed! How many fights have been started because someone got angry or frustrated and blurted out something unfiltered? And no we cannot blame it on Tourette’s syndrome either… at least most of us don’t have that excuse. How many wars fought because of some despot leader’s uncontrollable rage superseded their better judgment?

Our kids do something that frustrates or angers us and before we could think, those damnable and destructive words raced from our lips and into the ears. Too late to take them back now. Our spouse, whether intentionally or unintentionally, depresses our fire ignition button and all hades breaks forth from our mouth. Who would have thought such words could be heralded towards the same one we said we would love, cherish, honor, etc., etc., etc.

That’s how it happens and all too often, that’s how it happens FIRST! The negativity and destructive force of our tongue is unleashed upon the world, leaving in its wake a trail of lives, confidence, esteem, relationships, etc. all slain by its hand.

But before we are filled with despair, alas there is hope. Not only do we find that death is in the power of the tongue, so also is life! And though death may have come first, we do not end with death, rather we end with Life! I love this about the power of words. Though death may have been brought to us in the beginning by words, it can be overcome with words and result in life…and that more abundantly! (John 10:10)

If we were to look at the intent of words, they were never intended to destroy, they were always intended to build and create. In the beginning God used His words to create. (Genesis 1, 2) The serpent then came and used words to bring about destruction and death. (Genesis 3) You will also note that God declared that what he created with His word was good.

But God always gets the last word… if we allow Him. Though the serpent will bruise the heal of God’s redeemer… referencing the crucifixion of Christ… His redeemer will bruise the head of the serpent… referencing the eternal judgment and damnation of Satan. (Genesis 3:15) God gets the last word, not Satan… good, not evil if we let Him. And take special note of this fact as well, the redeemer of God was also brought to life by God’s word (John 1:1 – 14). Want to talk about the power of words!

There is a valuable lesson to be learned from this. Whenever words are used destructively, we know they are derived from an evil source. Conversely, whenever words are used constructively, we know they come from a heavenly source. This holds true even when we are the ones sharing the words. If we allow ourselves to get worked up and speak negative and destructively, we are allowing ourselves to be manipulated by ungodly influences. Contrast that with speaking positively or from God’s word in the face of frustration. Exercising discretion and control of our tongue speaks to the power of God through His Holy Spirit at work in our lives. (Acts 1:8)

God framed the world with the creative and life giving power of words and in a sense so can we. Imagine what our children will become if every word spoken into their impressionable lives were life giving? Or how our marriages would be if all we had to say to one another inspired life and creativity. What if in our churches we consumed ourselves with learning and expressing a vocabulary replete with virtue, healing, love, compassion, sensitivity, forgiveness, empowerment, faithfulness, loyalty, dedication and the like.

Yes, death and life are in the power of the tongue, but I choose to speak words that bring forth life. This is a power that we all have and can readily exercise.

There is one other element to the power of words that I would like to touch on for just a bit and that is the power to influence the thoughts and actions of others. This is, in part at least, one of the reasons I believe I was called into the Pastorate. Every week I am given an opportunity to speak words that have the potential to influence the thoughts and behaviors of those that choose to listen. Whether I’m speaking from a pulpit or in personal advising meetings, the ability to influence is the same.

This is a powerful position of influence that I and others of this calling have been granted and one that I do not take lightly. Every time I step behind that sacred desk of the pulpit I am reminded that every word that proceeds from my mouth can have a life changing or profound influence upon someone’s life. Decisions and choices related to life and relationships are often shaped, in part at least, by the words that I have been inspired to share. What a humbling and intimidating position to be in. Selah.

While it can be unsettling at times, I relish the challenge of being led and finding the perfect words to express that will help move people closer to God and each other. I believe there is a combination of words, if expressed properly and at the right time that can move anyone under any circumstances in the right direction. We do not always find that right combination of words, but I do believe they nevertheless exist.

This, I believe, is the power of words. The ability to find the right combination of vowels and consonants that will influence the thoughts, decisions and actions of humanity. This power can be used to draw people into battles or guide them towards reconciliation. This is the power of the pulpit. The use of God inspired words to draw people towards reconciliation with Him and each other.

Some with this gift of oratory will undoubtedly use it for less than honorable purposes. However, for me, I have determined to use this gift to the best of my ability to inspire those that read and listen to my words to achieve their created best. To empower them in thought and deed to live up to the noble calling of their creator. To eradicate and bring about the demise of destructive negativity, with the creative and life giving breath whose genesis is found in the heavens.

The power of words? That you might have life and that you might have it more abundantly.