Darkness Cannot Drive Out Darkness

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Maybe life has jaded me. Maybe it made my skin too thick. Though, it didn’t make my heart hard. I still love with all that is in me, and I’ll jump to help anyone I can. But I just don’t see the sense in raising hell over something I can’t change. All I can change is me and what I do.

Perhaps that’s the problem… Perhaps too many look outside themselves and take it upon themselves to try to change others. I can’t change you. I can only change me. If I want to see more love and tolerance in the world it needs to start with me. I need to be the change I want to see in the world.

Maybe I’m weird. Maybe I don’t get it. I don’t know. But when my Lord and Savior said, “Love your enemy” I took that to heart. I can’t change people’s opinions by arguing with them. But I can model sane, loving, kind behavior in my own actions.

Maybe the old saying, “You can get a lot more bees with honey than with vinegar” has been forgotten.

All I know is the events of the last several months have exposed a fundamental defect in our modern society. In our society, we seem to have an entitlement complex where we believe other people have to bend to our wills. I’m sorry, but that’s just not the case. As long as you don’t break the laws, you can think what you want to think and that’s your right.

Do I think we should have intelligent discussion about certain topics? Absolutely. But I don’t have to believe what you believe, and you don’t have to believe what I believe. As long as you don’t try to infringe upon my rights, I won’t give you any problems. Live and let live!

And if you think, “Easy for you to say… Your a white, heterosexual male.” You obviously don’t know me and my life. I have homosexual family members and my child is biracial. The issues facing our country today are issues I’m facing every day. But inciting riots and attacking others with differing viewpoints is NOT the solution.

Please, let us never forget the message of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.

Love one another. Be kind and gentle with one another. Seek to hear and understand one another. Then, and only then, can we hope to bring our society together.

To Love Is Never A Mistake

To Love Is Never A Mistake

In my short 39 years of life here on terra firma I can honestly say I’ve made my fair share of mistakes.

  • I dropped out of high school at 17yrs old.
  • I dropped out of college just before earning a double bachelors.
  • I did entirely too much drinking for far too many years.
  • I got in plenty of trouble, some of which landed me in jail a few times.
  • I screwed up business opportunities that could have made me wealthy.
  • I hurt those closest to me, even when they proved their loyalty beyond doubt.

On paper, I’m a complete screw up. But, I took those poor choices I made in my youth and I turned them around and let them shape me into being a better man.

Of all my poor choices, all my mistakes, one choice I’ve made I will never regret is loving. I refuse to regret loving anyone I’ve ever loved. Whether the relationship was family, friendship or significant other, I will not regret loving them.

I have loved family members who abused me, stole from me, and tried to kill me (literally). I have loved friends that stole my girlfriend, talked behind my back, and picked a fight with me. I have loved partners that have cheated on me, mentally abused me, and used me for what I could offer. But I don’t regret loving them. My love is a reflection of what is in my heart, not their behavior. Everyone deserves love.

I learned this because, even though I made so many mistakes and hurt so many people, there were people who continued to love me, no matter what. There was my family, of course, but there were friends, and even my ex-wife. They loved me through it all. They loved me until I could love myself. And when I learned of God’s great love an mercy, I fully understood that love is never a mistake.

Love is something that cannot be earned. Love is a choice. Love is a gift. My Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, taught me to love the unlovable. To love without expectation of return. To love even those who do you harm. To love, even if it costs you your life.

So, today, I choose to love. I choose to love even if someone harms me. Some people may no longer have a place in my life, but they will forever have a place in my heart. I will love them from afar. I will love them through my prayers.

No matter what happens; no matter what someone does to you; no matter the pain you have suffered; choose love.

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Internet Marketers should learn from St. Nicholas

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Several years ago, I had the opportunity to explain the story of the real St. Nicholas to my precocious (then) 6yr old nephew. The bright child had figured out that “Santa” wasn’t a jolly fat guy who brings presents pretty quickly and was being a bit cynical about the whole thing. After explaining the life of St. Nicholas to him, he looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “I get it. Santa Claus is about the spirit of giving.” What a bright child!

This experience brought to mind something that has been bothering me for several months now. That being that there is a mentality of “all about me” saturating the Internet Marketing industry. Everywhere you turn, somebody is bragging about themselves, asking over and over and over for you to check out their latest “earth shattering” program, asking for likes, stumbles, tweets, favs, etc.. Having spent the last several years working online, I’ve seen this type of mentality get worse. It’s to the point now where there’s hardly a place to socialize without somebody asking for something. This is NOT what the Internet and Internet Marketing are all about!

St. Nicholas was not an Internet Marketer, obviously, but there are some valuable lessons Internet Marketers can learn about his legend. Take for example that centuries after St. Nicholas lived, we are still talking about him today! His story was spread throughout the four corners of the world by sailors. Every year, in many diverse cultures around the world, he is celebrated. Even though the centuries have altered his legend, at the core of the story is the same message.

Now, let’s apply these principles in terms of Internet Marketing:

  • Buzz Marketing: If you want your product or service to go big, you have to create a buzz. There has been buzz surrounding St. Nicholas for generations.
  • Viral Marketing: The goal of every Internet Marketer is to get people talking to other people about their product or service. The story (brand) of St. Nicholas has been viral since the very beginning. He is a legend!
  • Strong Branding: Creating an instantly recognizable image, name, or tagline for a product or service is a huge factor in any marketing campaign. Though modern image of Santa Claus depicts a large, white bearded, jolly man in bright red attire, the fact is, early depictions were not so different. The attire has changed and it seems age has rounded out Santa’s physique a bit, but the basic look is still instantly recognizable.
  • Clear Message: In marketing, you absolutely must nail the message. You have to convey your message in such a way that it becomes ingrained into your target audience and there should be no doubt as to what you mean in your message. Through centuries, the finer details have been altered some, but the core message of St. Nicholas remains exactly the same, as if ingrained into our deep psyches.

So, what made St. Nicholas so popular? What has kept us talking about him for centuries? Why won’t his brand wither with time? The answer is simple; he embodies a message that is timeless and touches every person. That being the message of selfless giving. St. Nicholas has stood the test of time because he gave generously without regard to personal gain and without asking for reciprocation.

Selflessness has major benefits in Internet Marketing as well. While the ultimate goal of marketing is to get your target to do something for you, the path you take to get there does not have to be filled with taking all the time and not giving back. Any Internet Marketing campaign that is based around just asking enough people to click your link or check out your product or service is doomed to fail. To be effective, a campaign must give something back.

I learned this lesson through several years of working in Open Source Software. Those who gave the most, asked for the least, but received the bulk of the business. Why? Because they were constantly giving to the greater good without asking for anything in return and were rewarded with respect and trust. Trust is a major factor in developing relationships and building a successful marketing campaign.

When you reach out to others and give to them without asking for anything in return, you build strong relationships. Building relationships like this builds a strong following. Building a following in this manner, builds a highly targeted audience that already knows your brand, already trusts your brand, and is already primed and ready to take action when you finally do prompt them for action.

Why do Internet Marketers so often neglect this simple concept that can lead to stronger marketing campaigns? Simple, building relationships takes time and effort. It’s much faster and simpler to ask for something than it is to offer something. It’s much simpler and easier to use automated tools to broadcast out to thousands than to build a strong following of hundreds. Yet, with all these shortcuts taken, how many Internet Marketers are failing to get even a small percentage of their market to take action? Factors could be that they lack trust in their brand because they have not earned it or have abused it by asking for more than they give.

So, what does it take to give? Does this mean you have to spend every waking hour doing various tasks for other people? No! Many times, giving more than you receive can be handled en masse. Here are a few techniques for giving that can lead to stronger relationships.

  • Answer questions related to your product or service voluntarily.
  • Help others in lateral markets, thus building strategic contacts.
  • Seek out and assist vertical market contacts.
  • Become a prominent source for free information in your product or service’s industry.
  • Strategically offer your product or service for free without asking for anything in return.
  • Every time you see an opportunity to help, do so, even if the opportunity is not in your industry.

In all of the above examples, make sure your profile and/or contact information contains information about who you are and what you do, but don’t do so in a spammy way. The following example is usually sufficient.

James Morris
Web developer
james [at] yourwebsite [dot] com

Company Name, inc.
Catchy Company Tagline

1234 Some St., Box 5
Some City, WV
123-456-7890
https://yourwebsite.com

You can use variations of the above as email signatures, profile details, forum signatures and as a vcard. Even St. Nicholas had a calling card which was leaving coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him. In the modern tail of Santa, there is the milk and cookies that are left partially consumed. This is simply a part of personal branding that must be done.

On the surface, marketing and St. Nicholas don’t seem to have much in common. However, when you step back and look at the story of St. Nicholas critically, you can see where his life of giving is a model for building relationships. Building relationships should be the number one factor in your Internet Marketing campaign. Building strong relationships leads to a following that is primed and ready to take action when prompted. Giving back does not have to consume all of your time and can often be as simple as taking a few minutes to answer questions. Every opportunity to give a few minutes of your time for free is an opportunity to increase trust and recognition for your brand and you don’t even have to mention your brand.

Take some time to step back and look at your current marketing campaign. Are you buying contacts and broadcasting to a deaf crowd. Or, are you building strong relationships with those who will trust you, help you and take action when you ask them to? All it takes is giving a little and you will receive much more in return.

Consider the Rose

orange-roses-1371380-1280x960Often, we look at roses and admire their beauty. How could something be so gorgeous? But do we consider all that has happened to the rose plant for it to become so beautiful?

First, it had to be buried in shit. Yes, it had to be planted in the rich, fertile ground where it could do it’s growing best. Poor soil will slow the growth. So, there must be a healthy amount of fertilizer in order to stimulate growth.

Second, the rose goes through a gangly stage where it’s life is effectively nothing but thorns. There’s a few leaves to gather moisture from the air. But, the bulk of it’s life at this time is just awkward and thorny. Much pruning takes place during this time to trim off that which serves no real purpose or would otherwise stunt growth.

Third, the rose begins to bud in the appropriate season. Some of this transformation happens early, but doesn’t last. But the budding that is in due season remains and continues to grow.

Finally, the rose unfolds its buds to reveal it’s true beauty. Beauty that has taken time, nurturing, pruning and a sufficient amount of fertilizer. As the rose begins to blossom, we see that it doesn’t always blossom all at once, and we see not all the blossoms are the same. Some are more noticeable than others. Some are hidden behind the more prominent blossoms, but they are still there and are still beautiful.

The rose is an analogy for life. In order to experience true beauty in our lives, we must go through a fair amount of shit. We must be pruned to get rid of the things that are stunting our growth. We need to allow ourselves to bud, but not too soon. And then, when we finally blossom and become the beautiful person we are meant to be, we must not forget that the beauty we hold inside is even more important than what we present to the world.

What Has God Done for Me?

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I have quite a few friends who have known me for several years. Many of those friends have commented that I’ve changed drastically. My answer is always the same. God changed me. Often, they follow with a second question: How?

Well, the answer is simple, but it’s not easy. Simply put, God put within me a new heart. He erased decades of pain and misery and put a heart filled with joy in me. How He did that is where it’s not easy.

You see, a lot of people look at God with a skewed viewpoint. He’s either some distant spirit in the heavens that’s detached and uninvolved in the affairs of man, or he’s a benign grandfather figure that grants wishes. There’s always some variance to these themes, but they seem to be the prevailing ideals of God. Neither are accurate, at all.

What I have found, in my own experience, is that God truly is love. It is His most dominant characteristic. He is a loving father that wants his children to be happy and healthy. Just as a loving father sometimes needs to step back and let his children make their own choices and learn from their mistakes, so it is with God.

There were a lot of years where I knew God. I first accepted Christ as my savior at age 9. But I didn’t really want a relationship with Him. I confessed Him with my lips, but I didn’t live as though I was His child. I loved the world and lived for it. The results of that behavior is that I got caught up in the world and all its trappings. I never found fulfillment and I was always miserable.

Eventually, my self-will run riot led to all sorts of pain. I became addicted to substances. I ruined a marriage. I got in all sorts of trouble. I ran my business into the ground. And I suffered for many years, thanks to my own willfulness. I created my own misery by living for this world.

But God is not one to turn His back on His children. No, not at all. All the while I was caught up in all that misery, God continued to reach out to me and call me home. Sometimes it was through another person sharing their story. Sometimes it was by running across a piece of literature that just “happened” to be there. And sometimes, it was just a still, calm voice in my soul saying, “It will be alright, my son.” Somehow, some way, God kept chasing me.

Then came the bottom. There came a point in time when I had run so far, for so long that God had to let me experience the consequences of my actions to the fullest. It was then when I understood that hell is real, because I experienced a very real taste of it. Hell can be defined as the complete separation of God from man. It is when God says, “Ok, have it your way” and He allows us to pull away from Him.

Let me tell you, when you’ve gone your whole life feeling the presence of God in your life and that presence gets removed, there is no greater emptiness. There is no sadness in humanity that can compare to the sheer void of when God finally withdraws His spirit from you. But, while there is life, there is hope.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. ~Jeremiah 29:13

That is the scripture that went through my head when I no longer felt God – when I was at my emptiest. When I finally pushed God away enough for Him to withdraw His spirit from me and let me experience the full consequences of my actions, He reached out one more time and placed those words on my heart.

So I did. I spent the next 5+ years seeking God with all my heart. I read hundreds of books. I read the Bible cover-to-cover a few times. I read Bible dictionaries, commentaries, expositions and any other piece of Christian literature I could get my hungry hands on. And it changed me. The man I am today only resembles the man I was 6 years ago in appearance. The way I think, the way I feel and the way I act are a stark contrast to the man I once was.

God doesn’t make hard terms with us. He simply asks that we seek Him and a relationship with Him. He wants us to know Him. He already knows us. I don’t think God wants us to go to the extreme I did. But I do think He wants us to spend time in His Word, the Bible, and to spend time with Him in prayer. If we do those two simple things, He will transform us in the best person we can be.

So, to answer the question I posed in the title of this note: What Has God Done for Me?

  • He has freed me from the bondage of self.
  • He has freed me from addiction.
  • He has provided for my physical needs.
  • He has given me peace and serenity.
  • He has given me my family back.
  • He has given me my friends back.
  • He has brought a host of wonderful new people into my life.
  • He has given me hope for a future worth living for.
  • He has given me more happiness than I thought I’d ever experience.
  • He has given me life when all I knew was death.
  • He has given me His presence in my heart and life, which is beyond amazing.
  • He has shown me that there are no limitations to what He can and will do for those who love Him.

What has God done for me? Everything.

Today, I am a very grateful and happy man. Not because of anything I’ve done, but because I have God in my heart and He continues to shower His love on me. All it takes is having a relationship with Him.

To all my family, friends, and acquaintances, I share this testimony with you in the hopes that you will come to understand God a little better. God is love. God wants you to be happy, healthy and fulfilled. But God will not force Himself on you. He will knock on the door, but you have to open it. I hope in sharing my personal story you will become willing to open the door.

God bless!