Share What's On Your Mind

Apr 2019 Blog.png

How to be a Christian in Business

Share What's On Your Mind

Charlie Paparelli

This is part of a series on taking Jesus to work.

I was asked to present to Peachtree United Methodist Church on the topic of becoming known as a Christian. This forced me to think about what happened to me after I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.

You'll see how each step was guided by my good friend and mentor, Bill Leonard. Bill, with the prompting of the Holy Spirit, put me in situations where I shared my faith. Most of the time, it was by just being there, but sometimes I needed to speak boldly.


If you believe it and live it and share it, people won’t forget it.

In several conversations over a period of years, Richard Brock, my former partner in my first business, has repeated what Ricky Steele told him.

Richard brings it up whenever we are in the midst of struggling with a challenge he is facing. 

He tells the story like this: 

“I was attending a tech conference in Atlanta over fifteen years ago when I ran into Ricky Steele. In the conversation, I was telling him about a business problem which was bringing me to my knees. 

“Ricky replied, ‘Having faith in Jesus doesn’t mean you won’t have problems in your life. But your faith in Jesus will help you get through those problems.’”

Richard told me, “When Ricky said this, it didn’t mean anything to me. I just let it go. But months later, I found myself struggling again, and this time it was a personal issue. That’s when I remembered what Ricky said. It jumped into my head like he was standing next to me.”

He went on, “I can’t tell you how important Ricky’s belief statement was to me. I know Ricky is a Christian. He never hid that from anyone. But what he told me helped me grow in my faith, even though it took a while to become a part of me and what I believe. Now the first place I go when I’m struggling is to Jesus. And you know what? He gets me through whatever I’m dealing with at the time.”

The conversation Richard had with Ricky so many years ago literally changed Richard’s life. 

I’m sure when Ricky reads this, he isn’t even going to remember the conversation. He won’t remember what it was about. Nor will he remember speaking those two sentences. That’s because Ricky’s foundation is Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit who is within him.

Ricky thinks about Jesus because he walks with Jesus. The words he shared with Richard simply rolled off his tongue because he is a follower of Jesus. I know Ricky. He is a lot like me. If it is on our mind, it is out of our mouth. 

What I learned.

Being an active witness for Jesus Christ in the workplace is simple. It is an outpouring of who I am and how I serve. If I am serving myself that day, what I say doesn’t stick to anyone. If I’m serving Jesus, what I say sticks to everyone. 

I’ve run into people who told me, “When we met, you told me something I’ll never forget. It changed my life.”

I think of these as Holy Spirit moments. I know I am not capable of coming up with just the right words which change lives. But God is capable. He is in the changing lives business.

I always ask, “What did I say?”

Then they tell me and I say, “That was good, really good. I know it didn’t come from me. That was the Holy Spirit speaking through me.”

God uses us wherever we are. Just tell people what’s on your mind, trusting He put it there.


This series was originally a talk. To listenclick here.

Start Your Own Ministry...The Easy Way

Mar 2019 Blog.jpg

How to be a Christian in Business

Start Your Own Ministry ...The Easy Way

Charlie Paparelli

This is part of a series on taking Jesus to work.

I was asked to present to Peachtree United Methodist Church on the topic of becoming known as a Christian. This forced me to think about what happened to me after I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.

You'll see how each step was guided by my good friend and mentor, Bill Leonard. Bill, with the prompting of the Holy Spirit, put me in situations where I shared my faith. Most of the time, it was by just being there, but sometimes I needed to speak boldly.

 
“I need your help. Will you meet with me?” asks the entrepreneur.

“Sure. I’d be happy to,” I say. “Let’s do this. I’ll meet you at the ATDC at 10:30 am, and we’ll go through your business. When our meeting is over, would you be willing to join me at a Bible study at the ATDC? It starts at 11:45 am and ends promptly at 1 pm. You’ll meet some new people and have a new experience. You’ll even get a free lunch. What do you say?” 

More often than not, people say, “Yes.”

This has kept the Grace@Work at the ATDC front and center for me. It has also helped to grow the study. Cortney Alexander leads the study and has been leading for a couple of years. He does a great job, and people do come back. Many have come to know the Word of God, and many now know Jesus as King and Savior because of this simple invite.

And all I do is ask people to join me after I help them with their business. 

Here’s how it all started.

In October 1994 I got a call from Bill Leonard. He is the premier real estate broker for fast growth startups in our Atlanta tech community. He is also the founder of the High Tech Prayer Breakfast. 

He told me that he and Emma Morris were going to lead a four-week Bible study after the Breakfast. 

“Why are you calling me?” I asked.

“I found you that great office space in Interstate North. Emma and I think this would be a perfect location to host people who are interested in attending a Bible study. So can we use your conference room?” he asked.

“When is the study?” I replied.

“The study will run from 7 am to 8 am on Fridays. I’ll even pay you for any coffee we drink. Will you give me access to your office and let us use your conference room and kitchen?” he asked.

I answered, “That is not a problem. I’ll get you a key, and don’t worry about the coffee.” 

“Thank you.” Then he added, “You know you can join us.”

I was thinking to myself, I’ve got enough going on with my wife, driving the kids to school, and investing and helping operate three businesses. I don’t have time for this.

But I said, “Sure, Bill. Since it is only four weeks, I’ll be happy to join you and Emma.”

That was how I started going to Bible study in a tech company office. That’s how the first Bible study started in my office. 

At the end of the fourth meeting, Bill announced, “Well, that’s it. This is the last meeting. Thanks for attending.”

I said, “Hold on! I like coming to this Bible study. I was learning a lot about the Bible, and it was great to discuss my questions about God and Jesus with everybody. Why does this have to be the last meeting?”

I looked around, and the other five people in the study, besides Bill and Emma, were all agreeing with me.

Bill said, “Well, I’m not signing up to lead a study here going forward.” 

Emma jumped in and said, “I’ll come for a couple of weeks to make sure you guys are on track, but I’m not a long-term leader either.” 

I said, “OK. I’ll lead the study since this is my office. Is that OK with all of you?” Everyone agreed.

Emma stepped in and said, “You’ve never led a study, and you really don’t know the Bible, do you?”

“Nope.” I answered. “But I promise we will read the Bible and discuss it. My interest is to continue to do what you did for the last four weeks.”

Emma said, “OK. I’ll come for a few weeks. I’ll be there to help you lead. I’ll guide you on how to facilitate a Bible study. If you do OK and everybody stays interested, I’ll step out and give it to you guys.”

Within a year, that study grew from five of us to over thirty people. We kept inviting our friends and business associates to join us. At one point, I would be leading the study in our conference room with people two deep and with chairs behind me leading to my lobby. It was nuts. It wasn’t long before we split the study into two groups.

God really blessed it.

As I look back, I see the significance of using this Bible study as my own ministry. That Bible study was initially the ministry of the founding five guys. It grew, as did Cortney’s ministry at the ATDC, to include many others. 

If you attend one of the Grace@Work groups on a regular basis, I challenge you to make it your ministry. Your way of introducing people to the God of the Bible and his Son, Jesus Christ. All you have to do is ask them to join you. How simple is that?

This series was originally a talk. To listen click here.

Charlie Paparelli is president of High Tech Ministries, angel investor and blogger. Twice each week email subscribers to his blog receive his thoughts on being a successful entrepreneur and Christian leader.
 

How to be a Christian in Business

Feb 2019 Blog.jpg

How to be a Christian in Business

Step 2: Realize Who Put You There

Charlie Paparelli

This is step two in a series on taking Jesus to work.

I was asked to present to Peachtree United Methodist Church on the topic of becoming known as a Christian. This forced me to think about what happened to me after I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.

You'll see how each step was guided by my good friend and mentor, Bill Leonard. Bill, with the prompting of the Holy Spirit, put me in situations where I shared my faith. Most of the time, it was by just being there, but sometimes I needed to speak boldly.

Step 2: Realize whose you are and who put you there.

“I invite you and Kathy to join Sandy and me in attending the FCCI Conference,” said Bill Leonard.

The year was 1996. In July 1995, while driving to Hilton Head to join my family, I surrendered my life to Christ. I asked him to forgive me, take my sin and my guilt, and lead me as my Lord and Savior.

When Bill saw the change in my life, he knew I was ready. That’s why he invited me to the FCCI Conference.

“What is FCCI?” I asked.

“It stands for Fellowship of Companies for Christ International,” he answered.

“Who attends this conference?” I asked.

“Business owners and leaders from around the world whose desire is to be on purpose for Jesus Christ in the workplace. We call ourselves marketplace ministers,” he said.

So Kathy and I flew to The Ritz Carlton Hotel in Jamaica. 

The conference was in Half Moon Bay, and it was gorgeous. 

The hotel staff picked us up at the airport and escorted us through check-in and right to our room. We had a beautiful view of the gardens with the Atlantic ocean in the background. I was thinking, “I’m going to like this.”

We unpacked and dressed for the cocktail reception. As I reached for the handle to open the door, Kathy stepped in front of me and said, “Before we leave the room, I need to know something.” 

“OK. What is it?” I asked.

“What is it you do? People ask me this all the time, and I don’t know how to answer them,” she said.

“Tell them I’m a Christian venture capitalist,” I blurted out. 

I was struggling with this question for a long time. I became an angel investor in 1993. When people asked me what I did for a living, I would say, “I invest in entrepreneurs who want to start an information technology services company.” People got that. It was easy. 

Then I became a Christian. That’s when my struggles began. 

We all know we are who we hang with. Well, I was hanging out with Bill Leonard, Emma Morris, Regi Campbell, Curt Cain, and Rusty Gordon. All of these people were committed Christ followers who knew the Bible really well. 

I knew nothing but was anxious to learn. There was something about them which was different. The best way for me to describe it is, “They were business people operating on a higher mission.” 

They weren’t just about the work they did and how they made money. They were on mission for Jesus Christ. Because of this, they found fulfillment in business which I was missing. And I very much wanted what they had. 

I had joined my first startup 18 years earlier. 

When I was fortunate enough to meet Richard Brock, my startup life began. Eventually we became partners in the business he started. He was five years older and a lifetime smarter in business. In fact, until I started working with Richard at 22, I couldn’t even define business. 

But Richard changed everything for me. When his lips were moving, I was learning. I listened to everything he said and watched everything he did. He was a great teacher. He loved being an entrepreneur and businessman. I loved him, and, because he made it look like so much fun, I fell in love with business.

But over the years, business became more and more about the money. We eventually sold our business and got a big hit. Back then we called it life-changing money. I went on to work in president roles for several corporations. I held positions of authority, and the money was good. I continued to learn and develop as a businessman under great mentors and leaders. 

As I approached the second half of my thirties, something changed. I realized business wasn’t as much fun as it used to be. 

There was a smallness that began to creep in on me. 

The purpose became more and more about the money. And when it became about the money, I started not liking who I was becoming or the relationships I was creating. In short, business was unfulfilling. And since this was where I was spending all my time, I was unfulfilled. Here is a link to the rest of my story.

These Christian business people made business meaningful again. My goal at the conference was to figure out what they had figured out. Bill and all the rest of the gang I was hanging out with had something I wanted. And now, at the FCCI Conference, I was surrounded by people who had discovered the secret to fulfillment in business. I wanted to know. I wanted what they had.

I was there looking for this higher order of fulfillment in business. But I got lost in the details. I was asking the wrong questions. I was asking “What” and “How” questions.

  1. What do you do at work as a Christian in business?

  2. How do you talk about your faith in business?

  3. What do you do with your profits?

  4. How do you treat employees?

  5. What do you put on your webpage about your faith?

  6. How do you describe your business so people know you are a Christian?


The question I should have asked was “Why.”

  • Why do you believe integrating your faith into your business is so important?


This is the question. And here is what I discovered at that conference. Here is how I answered it.

God gave me the spirit of a leader. He put me in business and gave me the skills and personality for business. He surrounded me with the exact right people to teach, guide, and mentor me in business. He showed me opportunities. All this happened before I even knew Jesus. 

Then I surrendered my life to Christ.

That’s when I received my new mission, his mission. I am a man of God, a disciple of Jesus Christ, and a witness for Him. He led me to Atlanta early-stage technology companies. I did not choose this market. It was given to me by God. He equipped me with the experiences and relationships of a lifetime. I am uniquely His man in this market, serving it with his methods and sharing his message.

And that’s when the fulfillment in business happened. The “What and How” questions kept coming, but they were now easily answered.

This series was originally a talk. To listen click here.

Charlie Paparelli is president of High Tech Ministries, angel investor and blogger. Twice each week email subscribers to his blog receive his thoughts on being a successful entrepreneur and Christian leader.

How to be a Christian in Business

Jan 2019 Blog.jpg

How to be a Christian in Business

Part 1
Charlie Paparelli

This is a multi-part series on taking Jesus to work. 

I was asked to present to Peachtree United Methodist Church on the topic of becoming known as a Christian. This forced me to think about what happened to me after I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.

You'll see how each step was guided by my good friend and mentor Bill Leonard. Bill, with the prompting of the Holy Spirit, put me in situations where I shared my faith. Most of the time, it was by just being there, but sometimes I needed to speak boldly.

Step 1: Let everyone know you are Christian, a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Shortly after surrendering my life to Jesus Christ, I ran into Bill Leonard at a Southeast Software Association meeting. The meeting had just concluded, and I found myself walking out of the Doubletree Hotel with Bill and his associate at the time.

"I want to thank you. God used you to change my life," I told him.

"How's that?" he asked.

"After the last High Tech Prayer Breakfast, I told you I needed your help. You were kind enough to meet with me," I answered. "You told me about the Leadership Ministries men's Friday Bible study. It was there I learned about Christ's love for me through the men who attended. I also was introduced to the Bible, which has been an amazing gift to me."

"That's great," he said.

"But there is more," I said as I gathered my courage to tell him what I really wanted to say. "I recently surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. He is my Lord and Savior."

Without a moment's hesitation, Bill said, "You need to be a table host for the next High Tech Prayer Breakfast."

"I can't do that. People know me."

"And they sure as heck don't know me as a guy who invites people to a prayer breakfast. Anywhere else, but not a prayer breakfast," I answered.

"If you surrendered your life to Jesus, you need to do this. You must stand and be counted as one of his new disciples. This is what Jesus wants us to do. And the easiest and best way to do it in our tech community is to become a table host for the next breakfast."

We continued this heated discussion all they way to the parking deck. As I remember it, Bill and his associate were relentless in achieving their goal of me becoming a table host. After five more minutes of them insisting and me objecting, I said, "Sign me up."

Within a few months, it was time.

I began inviting people to the High Tech Prayer Breakfast. Up until this time, I was quietly attending the Bible study Bill introduced me to and quietly beginning to go to church.

In these environments, I was Charlie the celebrated new Christian who was hungry to learn more about the God who sacrificed his only Son for me. In business and with friends, I was Charlie the businessman and friend...good guy but never mentioning Jesus.

Now I had to invite people in Atlanta technology to the Prayer Breakfast.Whom should I invite? Who would benefit from hearing the stories told at the breakfast? The answer was easy. Everyone I knew. Since I never hung out with Christians, I had a big market to draw from.

I decided to jump in with both feet. I would invite my closest friends first. I might as well tell them about my new found life instead of letting them discover my new faith over time. I came to the conclusion I would be more authentic by doing it this way.

I was elated. Everybody I invited accepted!

I guess they had to see what was going on. "Charlie Paparelli invited me to attend a prayer breakfast. This has to be good."

When the breakfast started, I put my forearms on my thighs with my head down. 

I was afraid to look my guests in the eye. I knew they were going to hear stories from these tech business people about how Jesus had changed their lives forever.

After hearing this, they would probably guess the same thing had happened to me. And they would be right. This was my way of letting them know, "I am now a Christian."

When the breakfast was over, each of them came to me, shook my hand, and thanked me. They thought the event was inspiring, well-done, and informative.

One of my closer friends waited and approached after everyone else departed.

He said, "I had no idea you were a Christian."

This one comment and his sincerity in making this statement was the beginning of a multi-year conversation. My faith journey would come up over coffee, at dinners, and while playing golf. He wanted to know more and more about my faith. I found out later why he was so curious.

At this friend's 60th birthday party, he made some personal observations about each of his closest friends. When he came to me, he said, "Charlie is the only man I ever knew who actually changed." I will never forget what he said and where I was when he said it. He noticed I was born again.

Because of Bill and the High Tech Prayer Breakfast, I became known as the Christian angel investor. It was public information. God used this for his glory as you'll see in the next article.

This series was originally a talk. To listen click here.

Charlie Paparelli is president of High Tech Ministries, angel investor and blogger. Twice each week email subscribers to his blog receive his thoughts on being a successful entrepreneur and Christian leader.
 


How I Reconciled with God

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How I Reconciled with God

Charlie Paparelli

Originally this post was published on Charlie Paparelli’s blog as part of an ongoing series called “Reimagine Your Life.” To read the rest of the series, go to paparelli.com and subscribe.

“Why are you holding on to your guilt and resentments?” asked Adolf Coors IVfeatured speaker at the High Tech Prayer Breakfast.

I walked away from God when I was eighteen years old. I did it because religion made me feel guilty all the time. I believed religion and God were one and the same. The people who led the religion had the rules, regulations, and rituals. I learned them. I practiced them. Finally, I rejected them. I was free. On my own and doing what I believed was right and wrong. Setting my own course and practicing my own behaviors.

But there was a problem.

I couldn’t even meet my own standards of right behavior. Too often, I couldn’t make the right moral choices. This resulted in blaming myself. I couldn’t blame God. He was nowhere to be found in my life. I couldn’t blame religion because I wrote it off as foolishness. I was the only one left to blame.

I hurt people’s feelings. I did things in secret I never wanted to think about, much less talk about. As these situations occurred, I didn’t know what to do with the guilt.

The more guilt I accumulated, the more anxiousness swelled up. It took more and more of my energy to hold these feelings at bay. It was like they were spring loaded, and each year the spring became stronger and stronger. It took increasing effort to suppress it.

I found relief in work and alcohol.

I would bury myself in my work. Focused on doing a positive activity, I would forget about the guilt that consumed me. Take a drink, and these feelings were more easily forgotten. I was better able to cope. But I couldn’t drink and work. One method of coping worked against the other. Good thing drinking was such a big part of the work cultures.

The culture of the companies I was a part of was simple. Work hard. Play hard. So that’s what I did. The result was I became a functioning alcoholic. I also learned that if I could think it sober, I could do it or say it while loaded. This caused more wrong choices which resulted in more guilt and reinforcement of resentments. Which resulted in the need to drink. And the negative cycle continued.

I realized I became a man I didn’t like.

One evening, I saw what I was doing and where it would take me. I wasn’t the man I had envisioned being early in life. I became a man I wouldn’t want to befriend. But I was me, and there was no denying it. I knew I had to get off this path, and that’s why I decided to attend my first AA meeting.

In those rooms listening to those stories, I learned there was hope. There was a different path. Choose to stop drinking one day at a time. Commit to the AA program. I heard them say, “It works if you work it.” I believed it. What choice did I have? So I worked it.

My head began to clear after several months in AA.

That’s when I came face to face with the question, “Who is your higher power?” That’s when God came back into the picture in a more personal way for me. I wasn’t drinking after all this time. Was it because I gave my drinking problem to God? This was the third step in the program. It had to be this decision. I wasn’t able to stop drinking on my own, but now, with God in control, I wasn’t drinking.

Answering this question opened the doors of my life to people I knew who knew God. This led me to the High Tech Prayer Breakfast and other similar events. There I heard successful men speak of their demons of guilt and resentments and how they overcame them. They showed me there was a path to knowing God, and God had made it available to me.

I met these men in the more intimate setting of Bible studies.

In these meetings, I saw who these men were and how they thought and saw life. They shared the decisions they made. I realized I was not unique. They suffered just as I was suffering, but they were different from me now. They had a joy I didn’t have. Life was good. They had a higher purpose. They weren’t stuck in a negative cycle.

After several months of these AA meetings and Bible studies, I was driving to Hilton Head to meet up with Kathy and the kids. It was July of 1993. I was on I-16, which is the most desolate road in all of Georgia. No cars, no exits, and nothing to see but pine trees and white lines.

I popped in the cassette tape Robert Campbell had given me. It contained the speech Adolf Coors IV gave at the businessmen’s breakfast I’d attended the previous year. I heard his story all over again. He ended with an invitation, “Jesus Christ came down from heaven to die for your sins. He loves you that much. He wants you to be in a relationship with Him. Will you accept His gift of forgiveness and reconciliation?”

This was not the first time I’d heard this invitation. In fact, I was asked this question from time to time from various people throughout my adult life. I would say something like, “Leave me alone,” or if I was in a gentler mood, “It is good for you, but I don’t believe that.”

This time was different.

Adolf Coors IV asked, “Why are you holding on to your guilt and resentments? Why are you going on like this without God? Is it working for you?”

Why was I insisting on staying in control of my life?

Look where it had gotten me. I was a man I didn’t want to be. I was stuck, guilty, angry, anxious, and depressed. I gave my alcohol addiction to God, and he took it away. Would he take these feelings away and make me into the man I always wanted to be?

As I think back, I was afraid to commit my life to Jesus Christ. If this didn’t work, what would I do? As long as I did what I was now doing, there was hope that an answer would present itself. I would be magically cured of all these feelings and stinkin’ thinkin.’ But Coors was telling me this was the answer. It was right in front of me.

So right there in the car, traveling well above the speed limit, I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. Coors, speaking on the cassette tape, led me in the prayer. “Lord Jesus, I know you love me. I believe you came from heaven to reconcile me to you forever by dying on the cross for my sins. I surrender my life to you. Please take away my sins and remove my guilt. I know I’ll be with you from this day to eternity. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.”

Something happened in that moment.

It was like my dad showed up when I was lost as a child in a crowd. I was safe. It was OK. I knew life would be good again. The sins of the past were lifted from me. The guilt was gone. I was saved. Jesus Christ was now in charge.

I knew the first place I needed to go was to church. I once saw one in Hilton Head. It had a garden with a reflecting pool. I wanted to pray. I wanted to thank God and process what had just happened. So that’s what I did.

Then I went on to see Kathy and the kids. I said nothing to them about what had just happened.

Charlie Paparelli is president of High Tech Ministries, angel investor and blogger. Twice each week email subscribers to his blog receive his thoughts on being a successful entrepreneur and Christian leader.

My First Bible Study

Aug 2018 image.jpg

My First Bible Study

Charlie Paparelli

Originally this post was published on Charlie Paparelli’s blog as part of an ongoing series called “Reimagine Your Life.” To read the rest of the series, go to paparelli.com and subscribe.

“What are you looking for?” Kathy asked as she saw me rummaging through the bookshelves in our bedroom.

“I am looking for a Bible,” I said.

“A Bible? Why do you want a Bible?” she asked in disbelief.

“I am going to a Bible study in the morning,” I said.

“You are going to a what?” she asked. “You are going to AA every night, and now you are going to start going to a Bible study?”

“Do we own a Bible or not?” I asked.

“My sister gave me a Bible when I was a kid. I think it is on a bookshelf in the basement.”

I went downstairs and found it. It was an ugly green book with dried, swollen pages. At one time it must have been soaked in water and later dried out. It would barely rate as “Used – Acceptable” on the Amazon book condition scale. But I found it.

I was ready to attend my first Bible study.

At 7 am I walked through the front doors of the restaurant. I was greeted by a man my age. He was quick to welcome me and introduce himself. He said, “Welcome to the men’s Friday morning Bible study. Is this your first time?”

He had me fill out a name tag and then pointed me to the coffee and doughnut bar they’d created for the guests. It was a friendly crowd. A couple of men introduced themselves, but I was more interested in keeping a low profile.

After all, I had no idea how to conduct myself in a Bible study. I didn’t know what to expect. Would they would call on me to speak? Ask me to read the Bible or, worse yet, tell them why I had come in the first place? What was I going to say, “I’m looking for my higher power? Have you seen him?”

Chris White, the leader of the gathering of approximately 40 men, called the meeting to order. He asked everyone to find a seat. Then he said, “Welcome, men. Thanks for getting out of bed so early to hear the Word of God and discuss it. We are here to learn more about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

“For those who are here for the first time, our format is simple. I’ll choose a selected reading from the Bible and then speak for ten minutes on the passage. Then we’ll get together in small groups to discuss what we’ve learned and how it might apply to our lives. If you don’t have a regular small group, please see John over there, and he will assign you to one.”

Then Chris said, “Please turn to Matthew 6, verses one through 10.”

I sat there frozen.

I had no idea how to follow those instructions. What was Matthew? Where was Matthew? Who was Matthew? And what did the numbers mean? I didn’t want to look stupid, so I opened the Bible to about the middle and looked like I was reading something. What I was doing was hoping nobody was watching me. I didn’t want to look incompetent, but I needed help.

He did what he said he would do. He read the Bible. It seemed like everybody except for me was following along with him. Then he talked about what he had just read. I don’t remember any of it.

When Chris concluded his remarks, he said, “Ok. Let’s head to our small groups.”

As instructed, I went to see John. He was kind to me as I expected. He showed me to a table with five men I’d never met and asked me to introduce myself. Then each of the men in turn stood and shook my hand. The leader of the small group thanked me for coming and welcomed me. He said, “We are glad you’re here. Our format is simple. I’ll ask questions about what Chris read and talked about, and each of us will have the chance to share our thoughts.”

And with that short introduction, I started my first Bible study.

Before he asked any questions, the table leader asked me why I chose to attend that day. I said, “Bill Leonard sent me here. I was interested in learning more about God, and he recommended this meeting.”

Then the leader asked for prayer requests. Each man gave an update of what was going on in his life. I was struck by how transparent these men were about their lives, families, and business challenges. Some of the stories were pretty horrible. Parents with cancer, wayward kids, marriages not working, no job or income, bad bosses, and the list went on. I was thinking, I’m in AA and can’t seem to figure out what I’m going to do professionally, but my wife and kids love me. I’m in pretty good shape. I didn’t share any of this. I was there to observe and learn.

Then the leader asked a man to pray for the prayer requests.

I’d never heard a prayer like he prayed. It was from the heart, and it was free-form. He was simply in a conversation with God. Until that moment, I’d only heard people read or recite prayers from a prayer book. This guy was talking to God like he was sitting at the table with us.

“What did you think about the reading?” the leader asked.

I listened as these men shared their insights and struggles.

It was like a book club discussion but far more personal. The more the men at the table shared, the more comfortable I became. These guys are just like me. They are struggling with life and searching for answers. They’re here because they believe God has the answers. They think the answers to their questions can be found in the Bible, I thought to myself.

At the end of our time together, each of the men thanked me for coming and asked me to join them the next week.

I liked these guys.

They were not like the people I was meeting while networking in the community. They were authentic and transparent, unguarded. I wanted to be authentic and transparent. Maybe this was a place I could be that way. Maybe, just maybe, this was something I should attend every week.

Could I trust them?

Could I tell them the truth?

I said, “I’m looking for an introduction to my higher power. Can you point me in the right direction?”

Then God Sends Bill Leonard

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From AA to the High Tech Prayer Breakfast, God Works

Charlie Paparelli

Originally this post was published on Charlie Paparelli’s blog as part of an ongoing series called “Reimagine Your Life.” To read the rest of the series, go to paparelli.com and subscribe.

I couldn't stop thinking about Bill Leonard. I kept replaying his talk about Jesus. Standing at a podium on a slightly raised platform, he was the final speaker at my first High Tech Prayer Breakfast.

Bill spoke with a voice filled with conviction. I had never experienced anything like this in my life. And it wasn't only me. It was also true for the other eight hundred people in the room. The ballroom had this deafening silence. The kind where you can hear the air moving through the ductwork.

Bill said, "You can have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, his one and only son." And then he paused. It was up to me to make my decision. I could choose to believe, reject, or consider. I chose to consider what he said was truth.

It was something I wanted, but I had my doubts. Was what Bill was saying even possible? At eighteen years old, I made the decision to walk away from God. The religions around me seemed to produce guilt-ridden hypocrites. I became one of them at an early age and decided, "Not me." So I walked.

I became an enemy of God.

If the subject ever came up in conversation, I was prepared to crucify any idiot who would stand for God, including the "God of the universe" people. I always thought this expression was particularly annoying. I believed there either was a God and he was knowable or he didn’t exist. Anything else was a waste of time and energy.

But the AA experience bumped me off my belief track. I had tried to stop drinking for ten years and couldn't. Then I went to AA and came to believe a greater power could restore me to sanity, and I stopped drinking. It was almost eight months, and I hadn't had one drop of alcohol. That's when I asked the question, "Who is this higher power who did this miracle in my life?"

Right after I asked this question, to myself by the way, people who claimed to know God came out of the woodwork. People like Robert Dicristina, Robert Campbell, and now Bill Leonard. That's how I ended up at the High Tech Prayer Breakfast. Robert Campbell invited me, and Bill Leonard spoke.

Since it was Bill who had me thinking about a God who wanted a personal relationship with me, I had to meet Bill.

I was clueless about how to start a conversation about God.

I knew if I did, I would have to tell Bill I was in AA. That was the last bit of personal information I wanted to share. I was having a tough enough time trying to find my next business opportunity. I didn't need to add to my resume that I was a drunk. Some things just don't need to be shared, I thought.

But I had an idea. Bill founded a company called Wm. Leonard & Company. They were and still are an excellent tenant rep broker specializing in technology companies in Atlanta. Our company, Application Partners, was housed in a windowless sublet. It was downright depressing.

Bob Lasher was starting to sell. Revenue was increasing. I was becoming more hopeful this just might work. We were growing. We needed new space. Space with windows.

Bill and I meet in my windowless conference room.

He asked, "How can I help you?"

I told him I was looking for fifteen hundred square feet with windows. The space needed to be inexpensive but nice with the ability to expand within a short time.

"That's what we do," Bill said.

With the socially acceptable meeting agenda item completed, I said to him. "You seem to know a lot of people in the Atlanta technology community. I was watching you at the High Tech Prayer Breakfast. You are well connected."

"Would you like some introductions?" he volunteered.

"I am interested in the Christian people you know in tech. I was intrigued by what you said at the breakfast in your concluding remarks. I want to know more about this God who wants a personal relationship with me," I said.

"Would you be willing to go to a men's Bible study group being held at a restaurant?" he asked.

How great is that? I thought to myself. Until that moment, I didn't know people talked about God outside of church. If I could bypass religion and learn about God, this would be a great path for me to take.

"I might be interested," I said timidly.

"The guy's name is Chris White. He is a former IBM Branch Manager. He leads this Bible study at a seafood restaurant on the Perimeter. They meet every Friday morning from 7 to 8:30. I think you will like the men you meet, and you will get your questions answered."

A simple question I asked myself in an AA meeting, "Who is this higher power who did this miracle in my life?" opened up my life to a new world. A door was opened to a new network of men and women who would become life-long friends and business partners. A door was opened to read and study the Bible, a book I never knew anyone could read and understand. A door was opened to a personal relationship with God.

But let me not move too fast.

I decided to attend the 7 am study at the seafood restaurant.

How I Discovered My Higher Power

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How I Discovered My Higher Power

Charlie Paparelli

Originally this post was published on Charlie Paparelli’s blog as part of an ongoing series called “Reimagine Your Life.” To read the rest of the series, go to paparelli.com and subscribe.


“Who is your higher power?” I asked myself as the AA meeting concluded.

The next day as I was in the kitchen by my wife’s desk, I got a call. It was Robert DiCristina. He was a former competitor, a friend, and a former co-worker. He was also a devout Christian who loved Jesus.

We caught up briefly, and then he asked, “Would you come with me to a men’s leadership dinner?”

“What is it about?” I asked.
 

I don’t know that it mattered.

I wasn’t doing anything for work. I was in a lousy startup partnership, and the business results were as bad as the relationship. Nothing was working for me. My work was an important part of my life fulfillment, and I was not fulfilled.

“The dinner is sponsored by Leadership Ministries. Their keynote speaker is an EVP from MCI. It will give us a chance to spend some time together. You’ll also meet some new people in business. Who knows where this might lead,” Robert said.

Good pitch, I thought.

“When is the dinner?” I asked.

“Tonight at 7 pm. Will you join me?” he asked again.
 

“Sure. Thanks for the invite,” I responded.

I told Kathy I was going to dinner with Robert. She was relieved. With my search for work not going so well and attending AA meetings every night, I wasn’t very good company for her and the kids.

We got to the hotel and were escorted to a private meeting room. When I walked in, the room was filled with men sitting at round tables. We found a seat, and the dinner was served. I was relieved to see no alcohol on the table. I was safe, at least from this temptation.

I don’t recall talking to anyone except Robert. Then the speaker was introduced.

The speaker was Jonathan Crane. He talked about his business. As his story progressed, I felt like it was me talking about my business experience.
 

But then his story took an unexpected turn.

He began speaking about Jesus. I had never heard a businessman talk about Jesus. Priests and pastors did that, not businessmen. But there was something about this man which was very different from my experience.

I realized he was talking about Jesus as his higher power. And not just a big God somewhere out there in the universe. He spoke about a personal relationship with Jesus.

I left the dinner in a daze. What did all this mean?

The next week, Robert Campbell called me. Robert and I had worked very closely in building my first startup. We remained friends after the sale of the company, although at a distance.

Robert said, “I would like you to attend a prayer breakfast with me.”
 

“What’s a prayer breakfast?” I asked.

“It is a breakfast being hosted by my church. We have breakfast and then listen to a speaker,” he said.

Previously, Robert and I had hundreds of conversations about God and Jesus. We’d worked very closely together, and he was always witnessing. I remember telling him to “Shut up already.” Here he was years later inviting me to some church event.

The breakfast was at the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza at Ravinia. It was 7 am when I walked into the ballroom. Men were everywhere with not a female in sight. Who stepped up to the podium but Larry Dean, the founder of Stockholder Systems Inc. He had, at that time, the most successful software company in Atlanta. He was a big thinker and achieved incredible results.
 

I didn’t know he was a Christian.

Larry welcomed all of us and then introduced Adolf Coors IV. Adolf had a tremendous executive presence. He was tall with grey hair, dressed in a suit and tie, with a deep voice and eyes of steel. I thought, I’m going to AA, and now I’m listening to the guy who owns all the beer in the world. Crazy.

Adolf gave a very compelling talk. It was a chronological walk-through of his life. He was a high achiever, smart, a marine, a black belt, and a successful businessman. And, of course, he was rich. He was an heir to the Coors family fortune.

He talked about his father being his god. He adored his father and wanted to be him. One day, his dad left for work and never came home.

He had stopped to help someone stuck on the side of the road. It turned out the guy was an escaped criminal. He shot and killed his father, put him in the trunk of a stolen car, and drove off in his car. Just like that, his dad, his idol, was gone.
 

He asked, “Who is your ladder in life leaning against?”

After the breakfast, Robert was clearly encouraged. He gave me a cassette tape of that morning’s presentation and invited me to the High Tech Prayer Breakfast. “These are all the guys you should know in the community. You have to come.”

This time it was at the DoubleTree Hotel in Ravinia. Again at 7 am. There were hundreds of tech people there. When I finally found the table, I was pleased to see Robert and a couple of other people I knew.

I don’t remember the keynote speaker. I do remember Bill Leonard who closed the breakfast. Bill said, “I am separated from God because of my sin. The good news is he sent his son Jesus to come and die for me so my sins will be forgiven. If I accept God’s sacrifice and confess my sins, I will be reconciled to God. I will have begun a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Just after the breakfast, I went to meet with an investment banker who was seated at Robert’s table. He said to me, “Can you believe that Bill Leonard guy? It seemed a little over the top for my taste.”
 

Without hesitation, I shot back...

“I don’t know if what he said made any sense, but I do know this. He believes it. His conviction was overwhelming to me. Do you believe in anything like Bill Leonard believes in Jesus?”

I left that man’s office with my question to him on my mind. Was this the higher power who was saving me from alcohol?

Charlie Paparelli is president of High Tech Ministries, angel investor and blogger. Twice each week email subscribers to his blog receive his thoughts on being a successful entrepreneur and Christian leader.