All posts in Faith

Election Day 2016 – Nobody Panic

i-votedToday is election day – and we voted. Like many of our friends, the experience left a knot in my stomach, without even knowing the results yet. I was going to say, “without knowing who won the race,” but I think it’s been stated ad nauseaum through every means and venue possible that, whoever is elected, not many of us will feel like we are really “winning.” Maybe Charlie Sheen…I don’t know… 

Anyway, we have been praying. Going through scripture to help us make sense of the state of our elections, country and world. A verse came to mind that doesn’t actually directly fit the context of our current situation, but is more of a revealing statement about my own relationship with God and what he continues to teach ME about Himself. 

In John 6, Jesus had been teaching his disciples, in their words, “hard teachings.” CRAZY stuff that they couldn’t understand yet, like Jesus telling them about this bread that just comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. They piped up and said, “Well, we’d like some of THAT bread.” Jesus said, “I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE.” And they were all…”Whaaaatttt?” I won’t recount all of those teachings here, but go read it – it’s good stuff.

The verse that came to mind in that chapter is from Peter. It is an exasperation. It is something you say when you have that moment of clarity and desperation at the end of your rope and you realize that…You. Are. Not. In. Control. Not even a little bit, in the grand scheme of things.

Disciples were abandoning ship like crazy and Jesus asked the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”

In verse 68 – “Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.’ “

He says, “Lord, WHERE ARE WE GOING TO GO?” That is the question I ask of God way too often for me to admit. Lord, what OTHER options do we have? Because honestly, Yours are HARD sometimes. We have tried putting our trust in ourselves, in our bank accounts, in possessions, in our friends, in our families, and yes — in our leaders. With Peter, I say that we have examined them all and they ALL eventually come up short. 

Peter was saying, “I realize now that the answer to LIFE – this one and the next – is only found in You, Lord.” Whether we come to this realization willingly or kicking and screaming, at times, He is asking me (and you), “Do you TRUST ME?” 

Do you trust Me with your relationships? with raising your kids? with loving your spouse? with your finances? with your job? 

DO YOU TRUST ME to use whomever you elect as the leader of your country for MY purposes? Do you think that is beyond My reach? Do you not remember how I pared down Gideon’s army to THREE HUNDRED to defeat the vast Midianite army of thousands, just so they couldn’t boast, “My own strength has saved me.” (Judges 7:2)?

So, maybe we don’t have a candidate that many of us can get behind to say, “Oh, well, ________ is going to SAVE us now.” It occurs to me that it wouldn’t be ridiculous to think that – maybe that’s by God’s design and not just a sucky hand we seem to have been dealt. I don’t know for sure — those thoughts are way above my small human mind… 

I do know that, today, I pray, “Lord, we have nowhere else to go but You and I trust my life and my country to Your hands.” Amen.

Lessons from The Garage

13315589_10208253948338211_1695274950127848744_nToday, I changed the belts on my ’98 4-Runner. To say that in so few words doesn’t really give justice to the whole ordeal. I mean, the YouTube video guy said he did it in about 45 minutes. My brother said it should take about 20 minutes. Well, it only took me about FOUR hours, but I got it done! 

I used to work on cars a lot with my Dad and brother – a loooonnng time ago, and I’m a bit out of practice. But I actually ended up enjoying the experience in the end. Yes, I saved about $250 by doing it myself, but it was more than that. Even though Dad passed away over 5 years ago, it was like he was right there with me today. 

The memories were so real… him telling me where to shine the light (turns out – not in the trees)… raking through my scattered assortment of sockets and wrenches, trying to find the one I just had… washing my greasy hands with Gojo and Lava soap, wondering if they will ever come clean again… missing his knowledge of how to do just about anything.

But, the greatest memory of all was somewhere in the middle, when I got really discouraged. I couldn’t find a couple of bolts that I needed to loosen to put slack in one of the belts. My arms were all scraped up from working in close quarters around the fan blade that I had to remove. It just…wasn’t going well. That $250 price was looking pretty good right then and, well – I wanted to quit. 

I just sat on the garage floor, frustrated and tired… and then God started to bring to my mind all the projects my brother and I had helped Dad with over the years. I remembered that they rarely went perfectly and I remembered my dad’s tenacity – he just didn’t quit. He couldn’t afford to and he wasn’t going to let his family down, even in the small things. It wasn’t in his nature. When something had to be done, he pushed through.

And so did I. It took another 2 hours and I think I made up some new cuss words (just kidding, Mom!), but I got it done. And the car runs and everything!

Next time, I’ll probably shell out the money to have somebody else do it, but I think God carried me through this project today to remind me of a principle that Dad and his generation held onto with both hands – whether it’s cars, or relationships, or governments – when things are broken, you work together and fix them. Never give up.

Lessons from Screwdrivering

12747883_10207463894147350_3918153922244560210_oToday, Landon picked up the biggest screwdriver he could find and helped me reassemble the piano keyboard. It was fitting for a couple of reasons: 1) he was the one who poured a bottle of water into it last week and the one most thankful that it still works, and 2) it reminded me of a picture of me and my dad trying out my screwdrivering skills when I was about his age.

I’ve been thinking about that picture a lot today. Dad went home to heaven 5 years and 1 month ago today, and we all still miss him so much. He played many roles in life and we were all molded and impacted by his presence as a father growing up. So, we know the void when that strong presence changed to memories.

We found out last night that the father in another one of our dojo families, Ted Vliet, passed away from cancer. We hurt so badly along with them and, while we rejoice that he is in the presence of Christ, right now…there is pain. We will pray for them, pray with them, bring them meals and hug them tightly – as we have done with the Rylands family since Tom went home just last year. The cultural expression is that “we lost [these men]”, but we know they are not lost at all – they have been truly found, in Heaven.

Well, this started out as another cute kid photo, but my heart has been heavy today and somehow I’ve come here. I’ll end with this thought… I have been working on a longer post about “Finishing Well” in life and I have an ever growing and changing list of attributes – things we should strive for to live a Godly and honorable life. As I look at the lives of these great men who have gone ahead of us and finished well, I think we can narrow it down to two basic principles that Jesus taught us sum up everything in life: Love God. Love People. 

Everything else flows out of those two pillars. Our prayer is that we would deeply love our Father in Heaven and those people God has placed in our lives, while we have them. Remember – the thing about finishing well is that we never know when we’ll be finished, so finish today well. Love y’all.

Finding The Wonder

“However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him—”
1 Corinthians 2:9 NIV (http://bible NULL.com/111/1co NULL.2 NULL.9 NULL.niv)

Yesterday, in church, Landon was quietly drawing on the back of Penny’s bulletin with a ballpoint pen. I confess I was watching him from time to time, in part, to ensure he wasn’t drawing on anyone’s clothes. He was drawing blobs and rough circles, scribbles and lines – not bad for a three year-old. 

At one point, he handed me the pen and pointed to a bare corner of the paper. I took the pen and just quickly drew a star, the kind we have all made, without picking up the point of the pen. In my eyes, it wasn’t even a very good one…the top point was shorter than the others. Blasted perfectionism. 

I moved my hand and, when Landon saw the star, he looked up at me with wide eyes and said in that excited whisper-that’s-not-a-whisper, “Daddy! What did you DRAW?!” 

His laughter was a great reward in that brief moment. His wonder and awe at my simple star made me wish that I wasn’t such a grown-up who often lets the wonderful and awesome moments in life slip by without much fanfare.

And then, I read that verse in I Corinthians this morning and am reminded that the most wonderful visions that I can conceive in my mind are but scribbles and stick figures compared to the plans He has prepared for my future – in this life and eternity – and for all of his children.

Lord, help us look for and find the wonder you will show us today.

Finding Life in the Garden

It’s October now and, even in balmy Charleston, our garden is about done. As I think back on this year’s version of our Garden Project, it occurs to me that there are parallels to be seen in gardening and life. Jesus seemed to be fond of showing people the deep truths of life in the simple and familiar things that we experience and work in every day. Stories of mustard seeds, sowing seeds, pulling weeds, fig trees… God even started everything off with a Garden.

I don’t have any intentions of matching the theology of Jesus, but here are a few things I’ve noticed that gardening has in common with life:

  • Timing is everything.
  • Embrace our partnership with God. There is a part that only He can do and there is a part that He asks us to do.
  • Follow the instructions. Invest in watering, weeding and care. If we are faithful, the harvest will nearly always be great.
  • Sometimes, even when we do everything right, something goes wrong doesn’t go the way we had hoped and we don’t know why. This is the providence of God.
  • Don’t forget to witness and value the miracles that abound in everyday life.
  • Sometimes God will surprise you. When you think the bell peppers aren’t going to make it, they produce a bumper crop.
  • Some of the best things in life happen in the morning.
  • Pull weeds early on. It’s much more painful and difficult once they’ve taken root.
  • It all starts with good soil. It may not smell great, but…
  • There is value in patience. Some things cannot be rushed.

Lord, help us to see YOU in all that we do. Show us the deep things of life in the simple. Help us to invest our hearts in our families, kids, jobs and… gardens – the way You invest in us.

What I wouldn’t give…

I remember my friend Paul’s words making their initial impact and they have stuck with me daily for the past 7 years. I had accepted the opportunity to visit a remote village in Borneo in the summer of 2004 and had observed poverty, squalor – and yet, happiness – like I’ve never seen before. His words that struck me were simple and honest: “Yeah, this is how most of the world lives.”

I was reminded of this again after reading Paul’s post entitled, “I Can Make You Happy… Right Now.” (http://www NULL.faithactivators NULL.com/i-can-make-you-happy-right-now/) Of course, I jumped at even the thought of him actually coming through with his offer – and now, having read the surprisingly brief  article, I am positive that he does. Read it by clicking the title and let me know if you agree.

It also reminded me of a phrase I have heard in various places, by various people in various situations and income levels, or lack thereof.

“What I wouldn’t give for…”

…and then fill in the blank with whatever it is we think will make us happy. I know from experience that going down that road in my head and my reality hardly ever leads to where I thought it would, and usually in the other direction.

Lord, make me a grateful person for your presence in my life and for the people, places and provision you have placed in my life. Let us all be able to say wholeheartedly, “I am truly blessed!”

“The hard is what makes it great.”

I love great movies and I quote them all the time around the house with my family. Penny gave up being annoyed by it a long time ago and frequently throws her own quotes out there, so we laugh together, banter back and forth to see who drops the character first or how far we can take the scene.

I never thought I would throw out a quote from A League of Their Own (http://www NULL.imdb NULL.com/title/tt0104694/), but it just happened spontaneously the other day. The story is about a women’s baseball league created during WWII to be a substitute sports program while most of the men were away at war. It’s a great line from a quick dialog between Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks), the reluctant coach of the Peaches, and Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis), the reluctant star of the team, as Dottie’s husband returns home and she decides to leave the game. Read it or watch it below…

Jimmy Dugan: Taking a little day trip?
Dottie Hinson: No, Bob and I are driving home. To Oregon.
Jimmy Dugan: [long pause] You know, I really thought you were a ballplayer.
Dottie Hinson: Well, you were wrong.
Jimmy Dugan: Was I?
Dottie Hinson: Yeah. It is only a game, Jimmy. It’s only a game, and, and, I don’t need this. I have Bob; I don’t need this. At all.
Jimmy Dugan: I, I gave away five years at the end my career to drink. Five years. And now there isn’t anything I wouldn’t give to get back any one day of it.
Dottie Hinson: Well, we’re different.
Jimmy Dugan: This is [insert poultry expletive]…Dottie, if you want to go back to Oregon and make a hundred babies, great, I’m in no position to tell anyone how to live. But sneaking out like this, quitting, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up, you can’t deny that.
Dottie Hinson: It just got too hard.
Jimmy Dugan: It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.

Last week, Penny and I were both frustrated at how hard things are around here sometimes and it just came out of my mouth – “The hard is what makes it great!” Things have been hard around here, for a variety of reasons that I am a bit embarrassed to mention. I’m embarrassed to say what we consider to be “hard.” Because when I look around the world in comparison, our difficulties seem so trivial and small. (See the note at the bottom).

Yes, our kids are nuts sometimes, but they are healthy and loving and I wouldn’t change them one bit. Yes, school is a circus some days, but we are so fortunate to have the privilege of teaching our own children and have them here with us most of the time. Yes, money is tight, but God is providing for our every need.

It’s one of those paradoxical statements made by a calloused character in a movie, but it really rings true. We are reaching for, and achieving in many ways, specific levels of excellence, character and impact in our family, business and friendships. And there are times when we are indeed reminded that, put another way, “If it was easy, everybody would do it.” I am convinced that the “hard” parts are proof that let us know that what we are attempting is worthwhile. I hope anyway…

And there was something so hard one time, that only one Man could do it for the rest of mankind. And just when it seemed everything had gone wrong – it was great.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”   – Hebrews 12:1-3 (http://www NULL.biblegateway NULL.com/passage/?search=Hebrews+12:1-3&version=NIV), NIV

So when things are hard all around us, let’s remember that the Tomb is empty. Let us not grow weary. Let us not lose heart. The real hard part has been done for us, so let us run with perseverance the race that God has laid out for us and we, too, will be great…one day.

——————————

Note:  I never intended for this post to be a plug of any kind, but all this brain boggling thought has made me consider those that have it really hard in life, more often and more severely (like staying alive from day-to-day) than we do. If you are inclined to help some of those folks out, consider the ministry work that Mustard Seed International (http://www NULL.mustardseed NULL.org) is doing in Southeast Asia, India and South Sudan. 100% of funds donated go directly to people in need at their mission sites, schools, clinics and orphanages. And, if you can’t help out financially, remember that 100% of your prayers go directly to the Father to intercede on their behalf. Tell them that I sent you… Thanks.

On Forgiveness – Part One

I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately – what it is, what it means, what it does, how it makes us feel when we give it and when we receive it. What it does to us when we withhold it. Forgiveness exists on so many levels, from the mundane, like asking forgiveness for stepping on someone’s toe, to the eternal, the way God forgives us for all the sins we have ever committed over our whole life.

It’s hard – some folks aren’t so easy to forgive, you know? I’m certain that I am one of them sometimes. So I’m reading along in Matthew 18 and Jesus takes some time to talk with people about how to live. He says some hard things, extreme things. In verse 22, Peter asks him, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” I would imagine that Peter might have been thinking to himself that he had made a generous suggestion. But then, Jesus blows it out of the water when he replies, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy TIMES seven.”

There are at least two things that we try to wrap our heads around with that statement. Even now, I can see Peter doing the cyphering in his head, “Really?! Well, Jesus, that’s…you know…quite a lot!” That’s my nature – my first thought is to calculate the actual numbers, find the tangible limits of what my forgiveness to others should be. I ask the wrong question and I often miss Jesus’ point entirely – He’s not saying that we can write someone off on the 491st offense. He’s saying that we should be characterized by forgiveness, that we should make it our habit, our nature – our very heart. Our model for our forgiveness should mirror the picture of how God forgives us: eternally. We have been made in God’s likeness and we – although imperfectly – reflect his attributes like love, joy, patience, creativity and maybe most of all, forgiveness.

He has given us the capacity to forgive, but now I’m wondering, maybe along with Peter, “How do we forgive perfectly, continuously and completely as God does?” I think Jesus’ point is that, in our own strength and by ourselves, WE CAN’T. Time after time in speaking with the people around him, Jesus would take a moral standard that had been manipulated by men and diluted down to something that was a workaround and give it back it’s true meaning and real power. He shows us that the moral standard is impossible to achieve apart from God’s enabling Holy Spirit within us.

He talked about adultery – a term that folks had been taking liberties with and finding workarounds – and he redefined it to extend beyond any physical act and showed that it is a matter of the heart. It is ultimately and primarily an offense against a holy God. He shows us that in order to control the immoral act, we need to nip it in the bud and control the lust in our heart.

And so it is with forgiveness.

I call this “Part One,” not so much because I have lofty ideas of writing a nicely thought out seven-part series on forgiveness, but because I know that forgiveness is such a multi-faceted wonder. I will continue to examine, wrestle with and ponder it with the goal of embracing forgiveness on a daily basis.

And since I’m not fond of reading or writing lengthy posts, I thought I would stop here and pick it up again.

A likely starting point for next time:

What do we do when the offense seems too much to forgive? Infidelity? Physical injury? Betrayal? These and any number of other horrendous acts are difficult to forgive. And what if the offender doesn’t seek or feel the need to be forgiven?

I don’t claim to have easy answers to such weighty situations. One thing I do know is that, sometimes, the one who benefits the most from forgiveness is the one who gives it – not necessarily the one who was to receive it. I don’t know how that works, really, but I have experienced it personally.

Let me know what YOU think.