You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Today's Wild Card author is:
and the book:
Heart & Life Publishers (June 19, 2012)
***Special thanks to Susan Otis, Creative Resources for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Visit the author's website.
SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:
A physician uses truths he learned the hard way after his own moral failure to help other men into purposeful living. Dr. Kortje labels the lusts that trip men up as—“girls, gold and glory” and shows how to move past devastating mistakes. Using biblical accounts of men who experienced failure and life stories of other men, he points the way the heroic path to which men are called. His roadmap for moving beyond failure can set men free as they deal with wounding and experiencing healing in the presence of Jesus. Insightful questions at the end of each chapter will facilitate discussion.
List Price: $15.99
Paperback: 276 pages
Publisher: Heart & Life Publishers (June 19, 2012)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
The Man on the Side of the Mountain
It was one of the strangest sights I had ever seen: a man, unshaven, sitting on a rock at 10,000 feet in Colorado in the early morning, wearing a garbage bag.
I was heading up Mount Yale with a couple of good friends. It’s an imposing trek. At 14,200 feet, the round trip from the trailhead can take a good twelve hours. Most hikers, like us, begin well before sunup in order to avoid the frequent afternoon thunderstorms or evening snow. This man apparently hadn’t. He told us he had started out the afternoon before, made the peak about sunset, and then gotten disoriented and lost on the way down. Weather began moving in, so he bivouacked, or set up a temporary encampment, using his trash bag as a shelter and spent the night on the mountain. He looked cold, exhausted, and dehydrated but refused any of our food, water, or assistance. Continuing on, we looked back, and our visitor was gone.
We talked about that man for much of the hike. Was he a local? Perhaps a real-life mountain man? Or maybe a flatlander like us, who had narrowly escaped with his life? Perhaps he was an angel or some other majestic being sent to meet us on our journey. Whatever he was, he was definitely a metaphor: a metaphor for our lives, a metaphor for my life.
I may have planned better than he did for this peak, but if I were honest, much of the journey of my life has happened quite by surprise with equally dangerous consequences. Often I have found myself on an unknown trek, unsure of the dangers and even unaware of any risk, just meandering along, enjoying the view. That’s usually when it happens.
A thundercloud forms overhead. Perhaps it’s a business deal gone bad or the searing words of a loved one I’ve wounded. It may be the face of the man I feared I would become, staring back at me from the mirror. Or it may be some event that reminds me of dreams I will never attain. Whatever it is, instantly, like my mountain traveler, I too am forced to deal with the reality that I am somehow on a trail I can’t get off and for which I am ill- prepared.
What happened? How did I get here? And why do I feel like such an idiot for not recognizing the danger earlier? A trash bag? Really? That’s the best I can do? I feel like I’m an adolescent at Boy Scout camp, enduring the sneers of all of the others as my tent blows down for the third night in a row.
I doubt I’m the only one. I’ve spoken to many men throughout the years. I’ve climbed fourteeners with them, sat with them by campfires, enjoyed good meals with them, and met with them face-to-face during altar calls. I’ve heard their stories. Universally, it seems, most of us guys find ourselves at one point or another sitting in our trash bags. And we usually think it’s our fault.
Regardless of who’s to blame, it can be a very humbling place to be. I hate to fail. And when I do, like the man on the rock, I usually deny it, assure everyone that I’m okay and had actually planned it that way, and then try to disappear into the dawn. There’s a problem, however: that damned mirror keeps reflecting back what I know of me.
But what if it’s not damned? What if the mirror is in fact redeeming? Is it possible that my failings could actually teach me something about the life I was meant to live?
That is the premise of this book. Unless you have spent your entire life living in some kind of protective, aristocratic bubble, never risking anything, I think it’s safe to say that at some point you, too, have failed. (And honestly, if you have lived in such a bubble, you have failed far more than you realize.) Your failure— or more likely, failures—has shaped you, for better or for worse.
Having accepted this, you have two choices. You can either go on with your life, ignoring the wound and hoping it won’t come back to haunt you; or you can deal with it, learn from it, and grow from it. And that second option, my friend, is the great news I have discovered: failure not only doesn’t have to define you, but it can actually serve as the catalyst that propels you to the next level of God’s purpose for your life.
What Is Really Going On Here?
Denial and mere existence? Or truth and growth? The choice is yours. But before you make it, you must understand something. That collapse in judgment, that misstep—it was not your fault. At least, not completely. Sure, you made the call, took the risk, drank the Kool-Aid, opened your big mouth, and so yes, in that respect you bear responsibility. But other forces were also involved: evil forces bent on your destruction. This may not be the most popular or politically correct thing to say, but I would be remiss not to tell you.
The truth of the matter is that you are in a battle. You may not recognize it, you may refuse to believe it, but that does not negate the fact. Think about it. How else can you explain the opposition you have felt for so long? I certainly believe in good old-fashioned bad luck, but when it becomes orchestrated to hit repeatedly at the heart of my dreams and desires, it is no longer just “luck.”
Jesus sketches a similar portrait in John, chapter ten. Identifying us as sheep that He, the Good Shepherd, loves and longs to protect, Jesus explains that there is a reason He desires to protect us: because there is also one who is determined to destroy us. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” He states. This thief is identified in the Bible as a fallen angel named Satan, who along with his many followers has been waging war on mankind since our creation. Far from a little red man in leotards, this Satan is a master terrorist whose primary purpose is to keep you from the life that Jesus has for you.
That’s right: Jesus has a life specifically for you. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10, emphasis mine).
But before you can go on to face your failures and become all that you were meant to be, you must come to terms with this truth: You were placed here at this time in this place for a very specific purpose. Your life is not an accident, and neither are your wounds. Your life is opposed. That is why it feels like warfare out there—because it is!
If you’re raising your eyebrows right about now, that’s okay. I did too the first time I heard this message. But consider: If we really do have an enemy who is trying to destroy our lives, wouldn’t his work would be much easier if he kept us in the dark about it? I mean, think about it. The world was abdicated to Satan in the garden, and he certainly isn’t going to make his actions obvious. That doesn’t mean it’s not true; rather, it points to the fact that Satan is very good at camouflaging what he does.
If you already understand the stakes and the risks that are involved, then all the better, because I have some very good news to help you fight this great battle
Either way, I invite you to join me on this journey as we examine some of our personal disappointments and failings. As we do, we will build on this battle theme and on your place in God’s grand story. We will take an honest look at what the Bible says on the subject.
Then we will learn how men, much like you and me, have overcome their wounds. From their examples you will discover how you too can step back into the heart of the life you were meant to live—the life you have always dreamed of living.
Of course, stepping back up to the plate only to be thrown out again is futile. The final chapters of this book will equip you with tools to help you successfully face all that the Devil, the world, or just plain life may throw at you.
I, for one, am tired of being that man on the side of the mountain in a garbage bag. I no longer want to be content with merely surviving the night; I want to flourish. I hope you feel the same way, because honestly, all of us are engaged in an epic battle, and we desperately need what you have to offer. You may feel as if any contribution you could make has been violated and diminished; you may have seriously questioned whether you are even qualified to fight on any longer. I know how it is because I’ve had those same questions. Please trust me on this: That self-doubt is not God your Father speaking. The One who created you in His image and for His purpose hasn’t changed His mind about you. You are still His son created in His image, and He still has the same purpose for you as when He created you.
So come, journey with me beyond the bitter wounds of failure. Together we can discover that heroic path that you were created for.
C h a p t e r O n e
Our Greatest Fear
When a man arrives at great prosperity God did it; when he falls into disaster, he did it himself. Benjamin Franklin
For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity.
As I hung up the phone, my heart sank. “How could I have missed that?” The world had come suddenly to a standstill,
but my pulse was racing. Anxiety, fear, and despair circled my desk like a pride of hungry lions surrounding a wounded wildebeest as I tried desperately to reorient my thinking.
The call had been from a radiologist colleague. As a family physician, I had been treating a very sweet elderly lady for a condition that seemed rather routine. I thought she was responding, so we had continued our course of therapy over a number of months. But as time marched on, she still exhibited symptoms. Finally, I had decided to do a CAT scan to take a closer look, and that was the reason for this mid-afternoon phone call. The radiologist informed me that my patient had a number of masses inside her body, and they were spreading, the result of a malignant tumor.
She had cancer. She very likely would die.
As a young physician just a few years into my practice, I understood the role of a primary care physician. I knew the great trust that our patients put in us. Failure is not an option. Our patients come to us and pay us well to differentiate the serious from the benign, and they expect us to be right. They place their lives in our hands and are dependent on us to make the correct diagnosis—and I had not.
Calling this wonderfully sweet Christian woman into my office, I sat down and informed her of my failed diagnosis and of her very critical condition. I asked for her forgiveness and sent her on to an oncologist for further evaluation and treatment.
Programmed to Succeed
Few things affect a man like failure. We men are programmed to succeed. So whether it’s in a business venture, a relationship, a job, as a father, or in ministry, when failure rears its ugly head, questions flood our minds. For me, the questions involved whether I should ever have been a doctor in the first place; why I always tried to take the easier, simpler route; and what my family and colleagues would think of me now, not to mention this woman who had just received the worse news of her life. At a much deeper level, my question was, “Do I really have anything to offer, or will I always be just a screw-up?”
And failure always gets the better press. Just open your newspaper or watch the evening news. Our favorite stories are of the professional athlete who got caught cheating on his wife, or the stockbroker found guilty of embezzling millions of dollars from his clients’ retirement funds. Bring up a story of a man’s failings and you are sure to get a lively discussion.
It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering either. Recently at a religious gathering, I found myself caught up in a conversation concerning a man who had started a small Bible study only to have it fall apart. For some reason, his failure made the rest of us feel strangely better about ourselves. What’s up with that?
Novels, television, and the big screen certainly don’t help the matter much. Stories of our heroes typically paint the picture of a man who can do no wrong. He may be wrongly accused, but in the end he is almost always proved right. Add to that the expectations to be a perfect husband, a successful businessman, a devout churchgoer, and a self-sacrificing father, and it’s no wonder that we expect perfection of ourselves and those around us.
To compound our frustration even more, we have Jesus himself telling us to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
As we real-world men watch, listen to, and read all these standards for manly perfection, one thing becomes glaringly obvious: that ain’t us. Something must be wrong with us. Evidently we really are screw-ups with nothing to offer. That conclusion can lead us to true failure. As the Chinese proverb states, “Failure is not falling down, but refusing to get up.”
Since men can’t live for long in a world of failure, we begin searching for other areas where we can succeed. My study at home, my “man-cave,” is lined with over fifty trophies and plaques that I have won through the years racing motocross and Jet Skis. Mind you, most of these were not real wins. In fact, I have only one first- place trophy. Most of the others came from competing against other “old guys” like me (sometimes just a handful), during which time, by luck or fate or maybe just the planets aligning properly, I managed to cross the finish line ahead of the rest. In the grand scheme of motocross, I am a mediocre rider, but still the trophies do something for me. They stroke a part of my ego that feels inadequate.
Most men have a “trophy room.” It may be their list of all of the corporate deals they’ve made, the girls they’ve had, or the awards they’ve received. Maybe it is a garage full of toys or a photo album filled with pictures. It may even be altruistic: ministries they have supported, Sunday school classes they’ve taught, or even children they have raised. Many of these trophies are good things in themselves. Good or bad, however, they arise from a common need. Men require successes they can point to because in the deepest part of their heart they are looking for something. They are looking for significance.
And almost universally, if you ask a man—and if he is brave enough to be honest with you—he will admit that he hasn’t found that significance. At least, not completely. A surprising number of men will tell you that they have failed far more often than they have succeeded. And it is this sense of failure that largely directs a man’s life.
Since it is significance that we seek, and since failure prevents that significance, most of us will find ourselves adjusting our lives to ensure our success—and hence, our significance. Moreover, we will avoid at all costs the people, places, or things that we have not done well with.
Choosing your battles isn’t always a bad thing. At just under five feet, ten inches tall, with a vertical leap of about six inches, I have never excelled at basketball. I tried it a few times in middle school and in the driveway, but I quickly surmised that it was not my sport, so I don’t play basketball. I don’t think that is a critical mistake; in fact, you could make an excellent argument that I would be wasting valuable time if I spent every waking hour out on the hardwood working on my lay-ups. Some failures point us away from things we were never designed to do.
We must be careful, though. Basketball and your place in God’s grand adventure are not the same thing (unless, of course, your name is Michael Jordan). I have spoken to many men who concluded, after years of arguments and disappointments, that they were not cut out for marriage (at least, not the one they were in at the time). If you have experienced the pain of a divorce, I recognize that every situation is unique, and some marriages are not salvageable. I am not trying to point a finger at anyone, particularly since my own marriage has been on the precipice of divorce more than once. That said, there is a vast difference between walking away from a God-ordained institution and walking away from a weekend pastime. The former is by far the one that wounds the deepest.
The truth is, we have all tucked tail and run at various times in our lives, and those times have affected us in profound ways. I once knew a brilliant businessman who had provided quite nicely for his family. He and his wife had a beautiful home, traveled to exquisite places, and sent their children to the finest schools. The man was also more than generous with both his finances and his time, offering them sacrificially in a multitude of ways.
Then it all fell apart. Job losses, poor choices, and just plain bad luck eroded the man’s fortunes until, broke and feeling the full weight of his failure, he found himself alone on the roadside with a revolver in his hand, pointed at his head.
This man would tell you that he was rescued by God. But many aren’t so fortunate, or they are so enveloped by their pain that they can’t see God. Despair devastates the lives of far too many men before cancer and heart disease ever get a chance to destroy their bodies.
What is it about failure that has such a powerful effect on us? Why is it that a moment of indiscretion or an unsuccessful ministry—or a missed field goal, for that matter—can take us out, sometimes forever? What is it about these wounds that seem so defining?
Falling or taking a hit is one thing, but it’s really what follows that is so destructive. We begin to make vows: “I will never try that again,” or, “I must not be called to this,” or, “I am disqualified; God could never use me now.”
The Bible is so filled with stories of failures that one begins to wonder whether failure isn’t a prerequisite for being used by God. Joseph is a prime example. The second youngest in a family of twelve brothers, he begins early in his life to sense that there is something unique about him and his place in God’s story.
Joseph has a couple of dreams, and in them he sees images, first of twelve sheaves of grain and next of the sun, the moon, and eleven stars, all honoring him (Genesis 37:5–10). He interprets these dreams—correctly, I might add—as his brothers bowing down to him. Unfortunately, in his youth and immaturity, he makes the mistake of telling his family about the dreams (most likely with an air of “see what God told me”). His brothers, as brothers can be, dismiss him as a fool. To make matters worse, his father has a special jacket hand made for him (the coat of many colors) as a personal gift to his favorite son. Instead of receiving it humbly, Joseph shows it off to his brothers, wearing it everywhere and letting the whole family know that there is something extraordinary about him. It backfires. Instead, the brothers plot to kill him, but at the last minute they change their minds and choose instead to sell him as a slave to passing merchants on their way to Egypt.
Once in Egypt, he is purchased by a good man, Potiphar. Joseph, now with some of the maturity that comes with years and hard knocks, works hard for his new master, and soon he is put in charge of Potiphar’s entire household.
You know the rest of the story: Potiphar (likely a workaholic) is never home, and his wife gets lonely. When our hero refuses her advances, she accuses him of trying to rape her. Joseph finds himself locked in a cold prison cell, and this time it’s not his fault. He was trying to do the right thing, but the result is still the same.
If I were Joseph, right about now I’d be thinking that maybe there really is nothing to my life. I can understand God’s discipline for the arrogance of my youth, but how do I make sense of these latest events?
Most of us would likely die in that prison. Not Joseph. He continues to pursue the life that is ahead of him. Again he finds himself in a position of leadership, albeit as a prisoner, and eventually he interprets two more dreams—other men’s dreams instead of his own this time. And what do you know! Three years later (no one ever said things happen rapidly in God’s perfect timing), the pharaoh is told of Joseph’s gift, and this small-town boy goes from leading the laundry crew to leading a nation.
Not until years later do we begin to understand what motivates Joseph. He has brought his entire family to Egypt to save them from a great famine. Eventually Joseph’s father, Jacob, dies. Joseph’s brothers fear that their younger brother—who now has absolute power and before whom they are indeed kneeling as Joseph’s dreams had foretold—may finally take vengeance on them for that whole slave-trading thing of years gone by.
“But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives’” (Genesis 50:19–20).
Fear or Sonship
Paul says it this way: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed … And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:18–19, 28).
That’s you whom Paul is speaking to: those “sons of God” that the entire creation is waiting for. Just a few verses earlier he establishes that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship” (vv. 14–15).
That is our crux, isn’t it: the spirit of fear. We fear there is no significance to our lives, no greater plan. We miss the big picture. As men, we tend to interpret our lives in the context of the moment, and it is in that moment when the floor has fallen out from under us—when the bill collectors are knocking, the attorney is calling, the chaos is raging—that the spirit of fear can engulf us like a tsunami, threatening to destroy all that we have built.
But “you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear … you received a Spirit of sonship.” How we need to allow that truth to root itself firmly into our hearts! We have been changed, miraculously and permanently transformed. This is more than a mere feel-good, positive mental image; it is a powerful truth of our faith.
Understanding your position as a son of our King changes everything. The battle becomes a training ground, the fear becomes a lie from our enemy, and the failures become gifts. That’s right, gifts. The American author Napoleon Hill said that “failure is nature’s plan to prepare you for greatness.” I would modify that a bit and say it is God’s plan to prepare you for the greatness He has intended for you all along. Not that God has caused all of your failures or indiscretions; rather, He is waiting to use them to bring you into the fullness of the life He has always planned for you.
The apostle Paul’s life offers a fascinating case study on how God uses failure. Paul’s birth name was Saul, and Saul was one of those men who had likely plotted out the course of his life from a young age. Born of Hebrew parents, he was as devout in his faith as any man of his time—in his own words, a “Hebrew of Hebrews.” He was also a Roman citizen, a status that afforded him opportunities and privileges unavailable to non-citizens.
Furthermore, Saul was educated by the great rabbi Gamaliel. Not your everyday Sunday school teacher, this guy was kind of the Rick Warren or James Dobson of his day, highly respected and a man of considerable influence. Saul took full advantage of his heritage and his training. His heart was to follow God to the far reaches of the universe. But he made one critical mistake: he missed the Promised One. Jesus was walking the earth, literally, while Saul was being trained, and Saul missed Him. In fact, he didn’t just miss Jesus; he decided that Jesus was the enemy.
Most scholars believe that Saul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus occurred within a year of the crucifixion, which makes it very possible that Saul was present during the trial and execution of the Son of God. You just can’t let Jesus down much more than that.
Talk about failure! And it gets even worse. Saul headed off on a mission to hunt down and kill or imprison those who were following Jesus. No wonder the disciple Ananias argued when the Lord asked him to find Saul and restore his sight.
“‘Lord,’ Ananias answered, ‘I have heard many reports about this man and the harm he has done to the saints in Jerusalem’” (Acts 9:13).
But you see, Saul’s failure was really a gift. What a testimony! A highly educated, devoutly religious Jew became a follower of Jesus. Paul—the new name he received with his new life—took full advantage of his miraculous story, using it on numerous occasions as he proclaimed how Jesus had changed his life.
What if he had not? What if Paul had embraced his failure and chosen to live with the guilt and embarrassment of it all? How did he move on? The answer, I believe, lies in Paul’s understanding of what Jesus accomplished in him.
To the church in Corinth, Paul wrote: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). And to the Philippian church he boldly stated, “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). Paul understood that something in him had changed when he accepted the sacrifice of Jesus as his own. He understood that he was no longer the man he had been.
Sure, he had failed, and sure, he struggled with his failure. But in Christ he was now a new creation, and as a new creation he identified himself by what Jesus knew of him, not what his past “proved” of him.
As men, we have all experienced similar failures and found ourselves outside of God’s plan for our lives. For some of us, our failures are glaringly obvious and painful. You may be facing, or have experienced, jail time, foreclosure, or a divorce. Maybe you have been caught red-handed at something that has left your reputation forever marred.
Or you may just sense that something is missing in your walk with Christ. You began your life of faith with passion, but somehow the years and the busy-ness of life have left you just trying to hang on. Christianity has become less of a relationship and more of a ritual.
Perhaps you have found a way to move on from your failings, but still the battles rage and the drive for perfection continues to haunt you.
Which brings us back to the words of Jesus: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The Greek word used here for perfect is teleios (pronounced tel’-i- os). It implies completeness, as in maturity. Some have suggested that Jesus was simply trying to point out the obvious here, that apart from Him we have no hope of hitting the standard, which is a perfectly sinless life. That interpretation has some truth to it; certainly it is only in Christ that we are changed and made perfect. But I also believe that Jesus was pointing us to something—toward a realistic goal He intends us to reach for.
Jesus’s brother James wrote years later that we should consider it joy whenever we face trials, “because [we] know that the testing of [our] faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that [we] may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2–4). The word translated as “complete” is that same Greek word, teleios. The implication is not that we will never fail—otherwise, all of the great heroes of our faith would be disqualified. No, the implication is that we will fail, that we will be wounded (what else would you expect in a war?), but that our very failings become opportunities for us to mature (teleios) in our understanding of what Christ has accomplished in us.
I love this quote by a gentleman named Walter Brunell: “Failure is the tuition that we pay for success.” That’s true not only in business and personal endeavors; it is also true of our spiritual lives. Our enemy wants to convince us that failure disqualifies us, but our King desires to use our failures to train us. For how long? Until we are complete, not lacking anything. In other words, for the rest of our lives.
If we have any hope of walking this life in Christ, this grand adventure that He has invited us to, we must learn not only to survive our missed diagnoses, our growing apathy, our defunct businesses and relationships, but also to embrace them as opportunities to be trained and fathered by our King. It is only by doing so that we can change our failures from death blows to stepping stones toward a greatness we would never know if we had never failed. Unfortunately, we can’t plan for failure. It almost always comes unannounced. Seldom are we prepared, and so we must be ready to act in an instant. We must develop a mindset to survive the ambush.
1. What were your emotions and thoughts in the wake of a personal failure?
2. Does hearing of another man’s failings sometimes make you feel better about yourself? Why do you think this is?
3. What does your “trophy room” look like? How much would you say you value your trophies?
4. What vows have you made in response to a failure?
5. Read Romans 8:15 again. Do you believe that this verse applies to you?
6. In your own words, define teleios. In what parts of your life might God currently be developing teleios in you? How might those areas be gifts?