Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pray? Who'da Thunk It?

I've been reading through the Gospels. About once per year, I like to go back and read through the first four Books of the New Testament. I always find something (actually, many things) that I never caught before. God's Word is fresh every time I read - or re-read it.

I was reading in Mark 9, where we find one of Jesus' most famous quotes. He is talking with a father whose son is possessed by an evil spirit. Apparently, the disciples have already attempted in vain to cast out the demon. So, the dad brings his boy to Jesus.

Jesus is rather flustered at this moment. His words ring with disappointment.

"O unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me."

The father then explains how long his son has been possessed, and implores Jesus to do something about it:
"But if you can do anything," says the father, "take pity on us and help us."

Jesus' often-quoted reply stings, but provides hope:
"'If you can?'" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes."

Now, this is almost always when preachers and writers end the story. Jesus' words pack a punch that can add the exclamation point to any sermon, or conclude the chapter to any book.

But, to the disciples - and to Jesus - there's more to this story.
The disciples are perplexed. They have thrown out demons and performed miracles before, and they were stumped. They couldn't figure out why they were unable to do it this time. So, they ask Jesus why they couldn't drive it out.

He replied, "This kind can come out only by prayer."
(Mark 9:29)

You can see now why Jesus may have been exasperated with his followers. They knew who Jesus was, and they knew his power. They even understood that they, too, could do amazing things through the power given to them by God.
But, what they failed to do was submit themselves to their Heavenly Father in prayer. To acknowledge that He alone was in control of everything, including casting out demons.

Apparently, they were not watching closely enough when Jesus prayed to his Father. When he gave thanks for the loaves and fish to feed the 5,000. When he looked up to heaven to perform previous miracles. When he got up early every morning to seek silence and solitude to pray.

Jesus, who was God in the flesh, submitted to his Father through prayer. The one who now goes to the Father on our behalf when we pray valued prayer - time spend with his Dad - more than anything else.
That's something we cannot ignore. It's something we, as followers of Christ, must emulate.

There are so many things we are trying to do ourselves that we are just unable to get done. We say to ourselves, "Well, God is on my side. So, how come this isn't working out."
And, Jesus is trying to tell us that "it can only be done through prayer." It's what he said 2,000 years ago, and what he continues to say today.

Don't allow prayer to become an after-thought, or a last-ditch effort. Put it at the top. Then, watch God go to work!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Whoa...We're Halfway There...

There have been debates for years about whether or not "secular" music belongs in church worship services.

But, here's the deal. God can be found in all kinds of music - even (GASP) Top 40 music!

If you don't think so, ask the millions of people whose hearts have been touched by Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel." And, that is just one example out of thousands of songs that God has used to speak to us.

Yesterday morning, we opened our services with an old ditty that you will not find in your hymnal. It was Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer." We even had the dude doing the voice-changer thingy between verses. It was spot on! And, it was a terrific way to kick off the morning!

Now, before you get all up in arms, understand that we are in the middle of a sermon series about prayer at NorthStar. When we choose to perform a "secular" song, we don't just do it because it's cool. We have intentionality.

And, as I watched a little old lady in her 70's raising her hand and swaying to "take my hand, and we'll make it I on a prayer," you can't help but see God in it. At first, I chuckled, but then I was hit like a ton of bricks by the presence of God.

He can use a 20-year old song by a rock band to touch lives - including mine.
Before you totally discount using Pop/ Rock tunes in church, know this: many people are likely in church for the first time, and they have never heard a worship song or hymn. They already have their guard up, and they are looking for a reason to never come back. So, a familiar Top 40 tune (or even an "oldie" like Living on a Prayer) can disarm people that God desperately wants to build a relationship with.

Second, a fun song that everyone knows the words to shows people that your church can have, well...FUN! We don't always have to take church so seriously. Yes, we want to have reverence for our Lord and Savior. But, God created FUN also! And, he wants us to express joy in a variety of ways - even in worship services by singing "non-churchy" songs.

Now, I am not saying that churches should ever do only "secular" songs. In fact, I wouldn't be a proponent of that at all. But, every now and then, it's great to throw a song in the mix that people are used to singing in their cars with the windows rolled down.

And, remember, it's not only FUN - it's EFFECTIVE. Because God can use almost anything to draw people closer to Him.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Feelin' It

You may not realize this, but for most of us, when we buy something, we're not actually buying the THING with the price tag on it.

That new car we drive off the lot. That buzz cut or hairdo. The incredible meal we devoured at the local greasy spoon. The unforgettable vacation in the Tetons.

They are all things we dole out our precious money to purchase, but I would argue that the products and services we consume are simply a bonus, even a by-product of what we are actually paying for:
a feeling.

Think about it. That incredibly juicy half-pound burger you wolfed down may have set you
free, but if your server was rude, there's a chance you might not return. Your new coif may be the bomb, and you get all kinds of attention from your friends and co-workers, but if the stylist was annoying, or if she just didn't want to talk to (or listen to) you at all, you might look elsewhere for your hair care needs in the future.

The grocery store down the street may have incredible prices - maybe 20-25 percent cheaper than another store. But, if it's cluttered, or if the aisles are too narrow, or the music playing in the background isn't soothing, you'll sacrifice price for something more appealing.

The bottom line is we like to FEEL good. Yeah, we like a bargain. And, we like to get attention. And, we like to be entertained. But, much more than all of those things, we want to FEEL good while we are eating, spending, and living.

That's why stories are such a vital part of the success of any business or organization. People will be much more eager to buy into a story than they ever will to just a product. We all want to be a part of something much larger than ourselves. And, the biggest part of BEING a part of something is FEELING a part of something.

I mentioned this several months ago to some folks, but studies have shown that we remember:
  • 10% of what we READ
  • 20% of what we HEAR
  • 30% of what we SEE
  • 40% of what we DO
  • 100% of what we FEEL
Take note as you go places, do things, and spend money. Analyze WHY you are actually going, doing, and spending. You may be surprised.

And, now that you realize that feeling good means so much to YOU, realize it means just as much to those around you each and every day!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Chan is the Man!

Today is my little buddy - Chandler's - birthday.

It was great getting to open his bedroom door this morning at 7:26 a.m. Getting down on my knees at his bedside. Singing "Happy birthday little buddy, happy birthday to you..." and seeing his eyes begin to open up to start the day. It was great to cover his head, cheeks, and hands with kisses, and hopping into his bed next to him to hold him tight.

You see, today's a "big" day - because today Chandler becomes a "big boy." At least, that is what we have been telling him for the past several weeks.

Some "big" things of late: he's now sitting in a "big boy" booster seat. He's now standing up "like a big boy" to go potty. He has surrendered his "Boo" (his version of a blankie) - because he's now a Big Boy. And, he got a "big boy" bicycle for his birthday.

Having one son is blessing enough for many. But, the Lord has blessed us with two awesome little "big boys." Four years ago today, God presented us with this amazing gift - son #2. And, what a joy he has been.

Chandler is nothing like his big brother. He hates getting dirty. If he gets sand, or dirt, or juice (anything) on his hands, he immediately has to clean them. And, he cannot stand for socks or pants to "ride up" his leg. That irritates the fool out of him. He has to push his PJ pants or socks around his ankles.

He is also very moody. Since he was about 6 months old, I have called him "Jekyll-Hyde" boy, or "Bi-polar Baby." He's the sweetest thing in the world one moment, allowing you to give him sugars and hugs. The next, he is an ogre who will swat his hands at you without warning, often raising his voice and crying. I gotta say I get quite a chuckle out of his mood swings. In fact, my amusement often lands me in trouble with Mommy. But, I just can't help but laugh.

Chandler is fearless. He climbs on everything, jumps over anything, will pounce on anyone, and he always wants to sword fight or play with light sabers (he can create a sword out of anything).

He's also a finicky eater. His diet consists of Pop-tarts, dry cereal, waffles, hot dogs, corn dogs, and chicken nuggets. Oh yeah, and Whoppers. His favorite candy. Fortunately, Chandler drinks his weight in milk on a weekly basis. Otherwise, he'd wither away.

But, most of all, I love little buddy's sweet smile, and a cackle that will melt your heart.

I am so thankful to God for Chandler, and for allowing me to be the luckiest Daddy in the world.

Love you, Chandler-buddy! Happy Birthday!

Friday, April 18, 2008

No Fair!

I was listening to Neal Boortz this morning and heard something that kinda got me all riled up. Believe it or not, it wasn't Neal who get me all flustered. It was a comment by Barack Obama.

A couple nights ago the two Democratic Presidential Candidates were swapping punches in the Pennsylvania debates on TV. My man Charlie Gibson was one of the moderators, and he asked Obama a pretty darn good question. It went something like this:

Gibson: "When Bill Clinton was President, the Capital Gains Tax was at 28 percent. While he was in office, he signed legislation that reduced the tax rate to 20 percent. When he did that, the revenue generated from Capital Gains taxes increased. A couple years ago, President Bush signed a bill further reducing the tax rate to 15 percent. Again, the revenue generated for the Federal Government increased even more. If it has been proven that more revenue is generated with a lower tax rate, then why are you in favor of increasing the Capital Gains Tax?"

Obama: "I said I would look at raising the Capital Gains Tax for purposes of fairness."

Fairness. Hmm. Head scratcher, eh?

So, with the current 15 percent rate, the government pulls in more money, and taxpayers also benefit. Great deal, right??

But, Obama apparently doesn't see it that way.
He says a lower rate isn't fair. Well, I am a little confused as to whom it is unfair, but in a nutshell, he wants to hammer those who make a lot of money through investments - working the stock market for a profit. Putting their money to work for themselves. Crazy.

I really don't get into politics, but this should alarm you. Obama is saying that he'd rather reduce government revenues and increase taxes just to stick it to those who have a lot of money. The thing is, it not only affects the richest of the rich, but it penalizes anyone who makes money through investments.

Further, he is comparing the Capital Gains Tax to Income Taxes. These are not the same! He says Hedge Fund Managers pay a lower tax rate than their Secretaries. But, it's not the same tax!! Plus, the revenues generated are higher than if you double the CG Tax.

OK...I need to simmer down. But, pay close attention to what's going on. I know there are pluses and minuses to all the candidates. But, you cannot take anything at face value.

Obama says he wants to reduce Income Taxes and increase Capital Gains.

What's this mean?
One thing: things will NOT be fair.

BONUS: Here's a video that talks more about this -
Click HERE.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Owning the Wish

Let's face it. There are just some things in this life that we desire that we just won't ever get. These are things we'll never achieve, never attain, never receive no matter how badly we want them or how much we dwell on them. Things that would only become reality if Genies really did exist and granted us our requests.

But, believe it or not, there are some times when we wish for things that are well within our grasp. But, they are things that require discipline. Things that take time. Things that will only happen with determination.

Let me give you an example.

There's something I wish for quite frequently that I just don't have yet. Something that will certainly take discipline, time, and determination. Something many people have, that when I see it I become a little jealous.

It's a Bible that is tattered, weathered, and worn. One with wrinkled pages throughout. Lots of notes written throughout it. One like the famed Velveteen Rabbit that has been read and loved so much that it's falling apart. That's what I want.

But, to be quite honest, I am a ways away from having that. I mean, I am closer today than I was five years ago, but I'm several years away from it.

What's it REALLY gonna take? Opening it up. Repeatedly. Wrestling with it. Passionately desiring a closer relationship with God.

An awful lot of people own Bibles. Each year, the Bible is the number one book that is sold throughout the world. But, many of the ones I see are nothing more than table decorations. And, many times in my life, it was a dust magnet on my book shelf or bedside table.

But not any more. I have a wish. And, even more than that, God desires to honor my commitment even more than I want it for myself.

What's your wish?

Monday, April 14, 2008

My Special Day

I always look forward to my birthday every year (April 12, for those who really want to know). Not because I want presents or anything - although that's always a bonus - but because it's the day of the year I feel the most special.

I had "Happy Birthday" sung to me no less than four times on Saturday. I also had goofy emails, voicemail messages, and a funny text message sent to me to brighten my day. I had cards mailed to me - from my pastor, by financial advisor, and one of my buddies.

It was a special day.

My birthday is also the day when I get to decide what to do (when you live with two little boys, you learn to appreciate the opportunity to get to do what YOU want to do for a change). So, I got to decide what I wanted to eat, where I wanted to go, and what I wanted to watch on TV.

I am blessed to have such an amazing wife, super kids, a loving and supportive family, and great friends and co-workers. All of them went out of the way to wish me a Happy Birthday, and it meant the world to me.

It feels good to be 27 years old...for the 8th time.

Make sure you tell folks "Happy Birthday" on their special day, and let 'em know how special they are to you!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The 2sday 10

Ten of My Favorite Vacation Spots
(ones I have actually visited myself)

  • Jackson Hole, WY - Grand Teton National Park/ Yellowstone National Park
  • Ocean Reef Club - Key Largo, FL
  • Charleston, SC/ Daniel Island, SC
  • The King and Prince Beach Resort - St. Simons Island, GA
  • Fripp Island Resort - Fripp Island, SC
  • San Francisco, CA/ Monterey, CA/ Big Sur, CA
  • Grand Palladium Riviera Resort - Riviera Maya, Mexico
  • Asheville, NC
  • Walt Disney World - Lake Buena Vista, FL
  • Sea Pines Resort - Hilton Head Island, SC

Monday, April 7, 2008

In Hot Pursuit

There’s something about a chase that is just fascinating. One trying desperately to get away. Another following, pursuing and gradually closing the gap. This whole idea of “cat and mouse” makes for great drama. Think of some of the greatest movie scenes: the famous car chase in Bullitt, the FBI’s pursuit of Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive, the search for the hidden treasure of the Knights Templar in National Treasure, or Jason Bourne eluding the CIA in the Bourne trilogy of films.

We all love a good chase, don’t we?

This same idea can be applied to our very own lives. We have many “life pursuits.” Our education, finding the right mate, landing a fulfilling job, being successful, becoming wealthy, fitting in with the popular crowd, traveling the world, or finding fame – these are common goals for many of us.

And, while we have many things we chase after during our lifetime, what we fail to realize is that we are the ones being pursued. In fact, it’s a hot pursuit. A no-holds-barred chase that is happening behind the scenes.

Webster’s Dictionary defines the term hot pursuit as follows: close continuous pursuit of a fleeing suspected lawbreaker or hostile military force, especially across territorial lines.

This is exactly what is going on all around us. On one hand, we have an enemy whose one and only goal is to keep us separated from God. He distracts, interferes, undermines, and deceives. He plays dirty. And, he cares nothing about you and me. He only cares about God’s plan. So he looks for ways to exploit our weaknesses, so he can eliminate us from the game.

But, there’s another pursuer. One who continues to chase us down even after we have fallen. One who loves. One who stops at nothing to find us. One who rescues.

One of the best books I have ever read is called God is Closer Than You Think by John Ortberg. To illustrate his point, Ortberg uses Michelangelo’s painting of God and Adam, traditionally called The Creation of Adam. Ortberg points out that in the painting, “God is rushing toward Adam on a cloud…God’s entire being is wrapped up in his impatient desire to close the gap between himself and this man. He can’t wait.”

But, Adam isn’t as eager. He reclines casually, and his arm is only partially extended toward God, “as if he has no interest at all in making a connection.” Ortberg continues, “Maybe he (Adam) assumes that God, having come this far, will close the gap. Maybe he is indifferent to the possibility of touching his creator. Maybe he lacks the strength. All he would have to do is lift a finger.”

Every time I think about this image, I am convicted and saddened. Why? Because that painting perfectly captures our complacency toward God. The one who is called I AM, who created the galaxies, the animals, the oceans, the mountains - and you and me - is in hot pursuit of us daily. And, all we have to do is lift a finger to touch Him, and to be touched by Him.

The greatness and omnipotence of God has one unique limitation…the ability to make that choice for you and me. He will never force our hand.

I pray that this very moment you’ll slow down, pull over, and take a close look in the rearview mirror of your life. There’s someone pursuing you who desperately wants to fill your heart to overflowing.

All you have to do is lift a finger.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Not at Your Best? You Need Rest!

It seems like lately that I am just dragging. Everywhere I go, and everything that I am doing, I am just sapped of energy.

I actually get a decent amount of sleep each night. Probably 7 1/2 hours per night on average. But I never feel rested. Likely because I rarely rest.

My wife and I both work full-time jobs, and we have all kinds of stuff going on during the week. Three nights of baseball, a couple Bible studies, and keeping up with two children can just wear you out. And, that doesn't include the housework and chores that pile up - laundry, dishes, dinner, yard work, taking out the garbage, etc.

But, next week we get a reprieve. Well, sorta. We're getting away for a few days for Spring Break. And, boy is it needed!

It'll be a great time to re-charge the batteries for the home stretch of school and baseball season.

It's easy to overlook rest - especially when you really enjoy all the activities of which you are a part. But, just like anything else in our lives, our tendency is to sacrifice the long-term benefits of rest for the short-term payoff of fun.

Perhaps you lead a crazy, action-packed, never slow down life. Maybe you prefer it that way. That's totally cool.
But, remember, we all need to make time to hit the pause button. Clear our minds. Take a deep breath. And, just inhale TRUE life. See the world around us without being caught up in it. Take the time to appreciate something maybe you have just taken for granted for years.

Pick out a day, a few days, or a week to slow down or get away. If you don't plan it, it likely will never happen.
And, you - and those you love the most - really need it.

And your good will become your BEST...if you rest.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The 2sday 10

10 Funny (and Real) Newspaper Headlines

1. Iraqi Head Seeks Arms
2. Child's Stool Great for Use in Garden

3. Eye Drops Off Shelf

4. Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Experts Say

5. Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures

6. Dealers Will Hear Car Talk at Noon

7. Enraged Cow Injures Farmer with Ax
8. If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last a While
9. Blind Woman Gets New Kidney from Dad She Hasn't Seen in Years

10. Smokers are Productive, but Death Cuts Efficiency