God Knows You!

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In February 1990 we were celebrating our company's 10th anniversary. Dimension Five Consultants, our management consulting firm, had survived and prospered for a decade. My wife, Jane, and I wished to share our success with friends and clients, so we held a party. We welcomed a former president of the United States for a two-day conference to be attended by 50 participants. Facilities were secured and meals were planned. Receptions were organized and out-of-town guests were housed. We were ready to host an important event and talk about leadership and responsibility with loyal clients and a person who had managed complex problems from the oval office.

It was 9:30 the evening before the conference was to begin. I was making a final trip to our local airport in Monterey, Calif. One more guest, traveling alone from Philadelphia, was to be escorted to his hotel. The pace was quick and adrenalin was keeping me going. What a thrill to bring special guests together with former President Gerald Ford! Knowing this arriving guest fairly well, aware that his company had, on a few occasions, placed him on loan to assist with White House transitions for both Democrats and Republicans, I asked if he knew President Ford. He was silent. After what seemed an uncomfortable pause, the dignified executive said the following: "Jim, the question is not 'Do I know President Ford?' but, rather, 'Does President Ford know me?'"

In an instant, the exchange between us moved from my thinking I was a "knowledgeable and gracious host" to feeling clumsy, even uninformed. I was confused by the gentleman's response. So the next words from me confirmed how little I knew. I asked him: "What do you mean?"

He explained. Hundreds of millions of people know President Gerald Ford. But how many people would President Gerald Ford say that he knew? Unless someone knows you, then you probably don't really know them. From that insight about really knowing people emerged an effective method for evaluating the substance of many conversations. Is the person simply name-dropping when they announce who they know? Or do they reflect the legitimacy of their connectedness with another in that they are known to the person whose name has been mentioned? It is not who you know, but who knows you. The key is that God knows us and that we know God.

We must face the good new and bad news. The good news is that God knows us. The bad news is that God really does know us.

God knows our soul. God knows our intentions, motivations, anxieties, deepest hurts and most noble ambitions. So that we will not forget, we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. What makes our faith so wonderful is that we have access to the grace of God.

Access is everything-in faith, personal relationships, business dealings and international relations. Until the relationship is working, nothing proceeds very well. Transactions are possible and wars may be averted. Folks can mouth the words in worship services, and marriages can bump along, but meaning and purpose will not shine through.

Whenever wise people have reflected upon success, self-knowledge was always step one. The ability to build and sustain strong relationships was never far behind. Step two is finding and partnering with the right person and nurturing those who share similar values. For me, every week, when writing my Integrity Matters newspaper column, it is essential to remain centered, focused on important values and never straying very far from core beliefs.

An Integrity Matters reader asked a question that initiated an important values self-examination for me. Here is that question:

Dear Jim:
In your weekly newspaper column, you offer responses to integrity
questions in areas that interest me: family issues, neighborhood concerns,
economic challenges, political problems, spiritual needs and, even
honesty among baseball players.

Please help me to understand. Where do get your answers? How do you know what is ethical? On what basis do you select the values that support your position? How do your columns reflect your philosophy? I read that you were a clergyman. Does that mean you have a Christian bias? You have stated on more than one occasion that unless we regulate ourselves, governments will. You have persuaded me that we need to do something, but other than obeying the speed limit and practicing the golden rule, I'm uncertain where, exactly, to begin to help restore values. Is there one best way, or "one thing" as the seasoned actor Jack Palance said in the movie "City Slickers," that might improve our world?

What a question! As you might imagine, questions such as these can test one's thoughtfulness and thoroughness. Formulating a response required taking seriously the message to listen to God, because just as God knows you, God knows me.

Here are my thoughts: Over and over my answers and responses come out of the clarity and confidence that emerge from the single most important human relationship possible: a strong and committed marriage partner. A person's opinions are shaped by the particular experiences of his or her life. It is true that my own life encounters and training have brought me to my treasured values. Your reference to the movies brought to mind the award-winning film "A Beautiful Mind." One way to describe how the connection to values and insight work for me is to talk about that movie, which my wife, Jane, and I found significant.

Winner of the Academy Award for best film in 2002, "A Beautiful Mind" was directed by former television child-star Ron Howard. Actor Russell Crowe portrays Dr. John Nash, the math wizard and economic genius professor from Princeton University. The story of his life was the basis for the film. In addition to Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly played his loyal and dedicated wife, Alicia. Whatever else the movie communicated, the power of unconditional love was the cradle for the messages offered.

Dr. Nash received the shared Nobel Prize for economics in 1994 for his mathematical discoveries and contributions to game theory, which have impacted 20th century business and economic activity. Most important of all for Nash was how he remembered the importance of his wife in his successes. When he won the Nobel Prize after decades of struggling with schizophrenia, the most serious and debilitating of the mental illnesses, in his acceptance speech, he talked about his wife's understanding and support. It was his wife, Alicia, who had provided him with context, connection and clarity.

Nash, as portrayed by Russell Crowe, summarized his values, insights and his efforts to build and then rebuild his life with and through the integrity-centered behaviors (love and support) of his wife, Alicia, uttering these 101 words:

"I have always believed in numbers, in the equations and logics that lead to reason. And after a lifetime of such pursuits, I ask: What truly is logic? Who decides reason? My quest has taken me through the physical, the metaphysical, the delusional and back. And I have made the most important discovery of my career, the most important discovery of my life. It is only in the mysterious equations of love that any logic or reason can be found. I am only here tonight because of you (referring obviously to his wife, Alicia). You are the reason I am. You are all my reasons. Thank you."

These 101 words, when recast through my own experience, help me to form the basis for increasing the knowledge and awareness essential for restoring trust in society, rebuilding faith in institutions and guiding integrity-centered leadership.

Perhaps you will be challenged to utilize this same process for enhancing ways your thoughts and actions can provide for you the answers and direction required in these complex times. Here is my response to how my life and work have unfolded:

I have always believed in the potential of the individual, in the capacity of human beings to achieve and contribute. During decades of encouraging integrity-centered actions, for people to be the best they can be, I ask, What is integrity? Who decides which values support appropriate behaviors?

My quest has taken me to theology, teaching, pastoral care, preaching, leadership counseling and now writing. And I have made the most important discovery of my career, the most important discovery of my life.

It is only in the mysterious equations of interpersonal connection, mutual respect and unconditional love that an integrity-centered life is possible. Restoring trust and confidence in leadership of any society, regionally or globally, rests upon legitimate interpersonal relationships.

Any credit given to me regarding my constructive impact upon the lives of others was made possible because of the unconditional love provided to me by my wife, Jane, who is my best friend, role model and mentor. Her integrity is the source for any trust-restoring leadership counsel that my efforts were able to provide. For those gifts of support and integrity, I offer my thank you.

The basis of integrity-centered leadership is connection, context and value-clarity. Strong marriages exude this connectedness. Family units understand it and live it. Parents who look with pride, with feelings of accomplishment, upon their child-rearing efforts understand how these multiple dimensions of relationship secure the present and prepare the next generation for the future.

Yes, the movie contains a message. Powerful as its story is about a brilliant professor, it is even more about the wife. Perhaps A Beautiful Mind might be re-titled A Magnificent Marriage of Partnership, Perseverance and Unconditional Love. Truly, the husband becomes more and is better because of the right wife. Hopefully, the wife says the same thing. Yet, who among us is not better because of those we call friend and ally?

Substantive connections are built upon integrity and hold together relationships while guiding the proper execution of responsibilities. From friendship comes confidence, courage and commitment. Upon these three characteristics a person can build a life of meaning and impact.

Again, from the Book of Romans: "And not only that, but we also boast in our suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us."

Take a business situation. Does a corporation have a soul? A friend of mine has been speaking on that topic across the United States and around the world. His answer is yes. The soul of an economic enterprise was well defined by the words attributed to Harold Geneen, the former president of the giant conglomerate, International Telephone and Telegraph. He asked himself an important question: "Does a company have a soul?"

"Business is many things, the least of which is the balance sheet. It is a fluid, ever-changing, living thing, sometimes building to great peaks, sometimes falling to crumbled lumps. The soul of a business is a curious alchemy of needs, desires, greed and gratifications mixed together with selflessness, sacrifices and personal contributions far beyond material rewards."

So it is with individuals. We are many things, the least of which is the length of our obituary, the size of our estates, the number of books we have written, honors received or any host of score-keeping activities that consume all too much energy. God knows us. We, individually and collectively, are a complex mixture of assets and liabilities-that our God, like the close and marvelous personal relationships we know -has been "passing over all the foolish and frivolous and weak things which an all-knowing God cannot help dimly seeing there, and for drawing out into the light all the beautiful, radiant belonging, that no one else had looked quite far enough to find." Yes, God knows us. And, when one is looking for a credible reference, for a near-term job or an eternity, can a resume read any better than "Yes, God knows me"?

Let us pray.

All knowing God, we offer our thanksgiving for your presence. We recognize your unconditional love and gracious forgiveness. We know that you are always with us, understanding our motives, often before we do, and are ready to build a right spirit within us. Help us to see your presence and your purpose in others. Cause us to pause, in the midst of our hurried lives, long enough to discern your will. Remind us that when you seem far away, it is because we have moved, not you. Help us to rekindle prayerful hearts and appreciative lives. Help us to live in such ways that we appeal to the best hopes and never the worst fears of those with whom we live and work. Make us better stewards of your grace, which is the path to hope and glory. Thank you, God, for enabling us to say with confidence and integrity that we know you and, that you know us. Amen.

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