Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My Better Half

I'm gonna have a tough time not getting a little misty-eyed and choked up as a type this. I am a typical guy, and do not do a very good job of verbally communicating my love and appreciation for my amazing wife, Amy.

But, even if I cannot speak words, I can certainly type them. And, that is what I am doing right now.

Today - May 27 - is a special day. It is Amy's birthday. In our family, birthdays are a big deal. They are truly days to celebrate with family and friends. And, I am fortunate that my very best friend is also my closest family member: Amy.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say a kind word about Amy. I'm really not sure Amy knows how well-thought of she is by others. She has such a genuine humility that I just don't think she ever realizes how much of a positive impact she makes in the lives of other people. But she does.

Amy is one of the most selfless people I know. She gives with no expectation of anything in return. In fact, if she gives you something (money, time, gift, buys your lunch, whatever) - she DOESN'T want anything in return. If you try to pay her back, you'll find out how stubborn she can be (in a good way).

She always goes the extra mile. I tease her from time to time because it's just not within her to do the minimum - in anything. When she does something, she goes all-out. For example, in our couples small group that we host, each couple is always assigned a food item to bring and share with the group. Usually, two couples are responsible for bringing a dessert item. When we gathered one evening, someone asked the person who makes the food assignments why only one couple was assigned dessert. Her response, "Well, I knew Amy would make a dessert even though she wasn't assigned one, so I just had one other couple bring dessert." That's just a small example of her going the extra mile.

Amy is so considerate of others. And, I will admit that many times I am selfish and I get flustered because she spends so much of her time putting others ahead of herself. She truly sees the value in serving others and loving them with no strings. She gets that from her MawMaw Lewis and her dad. All of them will completely inconvenience themselves to brighten your day or lighten your load. It is perhaps the most admirable quality they possess.

And, these are but a few of the multitude of reasons I have for choosing to love and spend my life with Amy. I could name many other things that attract me to her: her intelligence, her "fake" laugh that sounds like Betty Rubble, her passion for the Georgia Bulldogs, how amazing of a mom she is to our two boys, and how she likes "guy" movies much more than "girly" movies.

But, what I love most about Amy is that she loves God as much as I do. She loves to worship Him through music, she trusts Him at all times, and she is a great witness for Him to others. It's hard not to love a woman who puts God first.

Happy Birthday, Amy. I love you more than words.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Identity Theft (You May Be the Thief)

Few things frustrate me more than when people (myself included) pour so much time and money into meaningless things. I don't mean things without value. I am talking about things with no true meaning in the grand scheme of eternity.

We spend priceless moments toiling over silly stuff. We waste large sums of money on things that will be on the yard sale table in a year. We put on masks to try to blend in with people who - deep down - we really do not respect and admire. We chase that which will always be out of reach, and try to become something we were never supposed to become.

I am reading a book right now that is blowing my mind, and is creating a stir within my soul. It's called
Blue Like Jazz, and was written by Donald Miller. I could spend days going through the simple, yet profound thoughts that Miller shares in the book. But, one that is hitting me hard right now is this: We all want to be cool.

Actually, I'll take it a step further. We all want to be regarded as "cool" by others.

There's an excerpt in the book that explains exactly what I am talking about. One of Miller's friends makes the comment that she likes a particular actor/author "as a person." Miller responds by asking her why she likes him. She responds by saying it's because he is an actor AND an author - and she thinks that is cool.
So, Miller asks if his friend knows what this actor/author believes. What he stands for. His friend has no idea. But, she thinks that it's "cool" that he's an actor and an author, so that is why she likes him. No substance.

Miller goes on to say this:
I don't know if we really like pop-culture icons, follow them, buy into them because we resonate with what they believe, or whether we buy into them because we think they are cool...I think we have this need to be cool, that there is this undercurrent in society that says some people are cool, and some people aren't. And, it is very, very important that we are cool...The problem I have with this is that we rarely know what the person believes whom we are associating ourselves with.

I think Miller is right on the money here. We are all guilty of this. We associate ourselves with people that make us feel better about ourselves. But, this isn't reality. Reality is that we will only excel at being (and becoming) who God made us...not some cool actor/author we'll likely never meet.

And, here is the conclusion Miller comes to: "Satan, who I believe exists as much as Jesus exists, wants us to believe meaningless things for meaningless reasons."

We waste time trying to be something we're not. Chasing meaningless things.

Marlon Longacre, who is the Community Pastor here at NorthStar, just came in my office and was asking my about what I was typing.
Marlon said, "Isn't it amazing how we all start out as originals, but we try so hard to become a carbon copy of someone else?"

Stop the urge to become a cheap replica, and turn your energy to God, who has created you as a priceless original. A one-of-a-kind.

Be you.

Monday, May 19, 2008

MIssing It

There's this guy named A.J. Jacobs who has written a New York Times best-selling book entitled The Year of Living Biblically. Essentially, Jacobs (who is a self-described agnostic) spent an entire year attempting to live by the "rules" of the Bible - as literally as possible.

I have not read the book yet, but I plan to. I have read numerous reviews and excerpts, and it actually sounds hysterical. There's no doubt that the book will be entertaining and side-splitting.

But, in the end, Jacobs missed it. In what could have been (and perhaps still might be) the beginning of an incredible relationship with Jesus, the 365 days Jacobs spent adhering to the Bible was nothing more than a PR stunt.

I just read an interview that appeared in Leadership magazine, and I have to admit that I was a little deflated. Jacobs was asked if his faith had changed at all after having lived "biblically" for a year. He says instead of just being agnostic, that he is now considered a "reverent agnostic." Jacobs says, "I believe there is something very important about the idea of sacredness: prayer can be sacred, the Sabbath can be sacred, family is sacred, rituals are sacred...

"But I never did convert; I never did make the leap of faith to accept Jesus as my savior. As I read the New Testament, I more tried to live by his ethical teachings, which did change my life."

After reading this interview, I emailed Jacobs. Not to start a debate, but to ask him a question. I asked him how in the world he could live biblically (particularly the New Testament) without having a relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus himself said that the most important commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Jesus also said that the only was to the Father was through Him. So, how could you love God without accepting Jesus?

Anyway, I explained to A.J. that it appeared that he had lived biblically with his mind, but not his heart. And, I feel pretty good about that assessment.

But, God has a mysterious way of working. Jacobs may think that this was a great way to sell books and earn honorariums for speaking engagements; but, God is likely not done with him. Doors are still open, and my prayer is that God will soften his heart and tune his ears so Jacobs can hear who He really is.

And, I'm still gonna read the book. I guess he's got me there.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Cardinals Never Gave Up

If you have read my blog at all, you know that I coach a 7-8 year old baseball team. Well, this has been just an incredible season, to say the least.

It has been an awful lot of work - three or four nights per week of "spare time." Pouring my heart and soul into these kids. Trying not only to help them in baseball, but also to help build character. The kids have been amazing, and the parents have been the most supportive group of any I have dealt with in four seasons.

Last night we played for our lives. We were in the loser's bracket, and had to win the game to stay in the tournament. To make a long story short, we were down 13-6 in the bottom of the 5th inning. We had to score 2 runs just to stay in it. We scored 3.

We go to the top of the 6th - final inning - down 13-9. If they score 2 runs, the game - and our season - are over. We somehow managed to hold them without scoring, and came back up to bat.

First kid gets on base. Next kid hits a single, and the throw from the outfield ends up going into right field. Both runners come around to score.

It's 13-11. No outs.

Next kid grounds out to the pitcher. 1 out. Next kid hits a single. Now we're to the top of our order. He hits a single. Runners on 1st and 3rd. Net kid hits a grounder, they get a force out at 2B.

It's 13-12. Two outs. Runner on first.

Next batter is my son, Chaz. He hits a single to LF, throw goes to 3B - runner is safe, and Chaz advances to 2B.

13-12. 2 outs. Runners on 2nd and 3rd.

Next kid fouls off four pitches in a row. On the 5th pitch, he hits a pop-up between pitcher and 1B. He beats the throw. Safe at first.

13-13. Runners on 1st and 3rd - 2 outs.

On the very first pitch, Zach - our 5th hitter - hits a hard grounder to deep shortstop, beats the throw to first, and we WIN the game: 14-13.

The place went nuts. It was electric, and the kids went crazy!

I was so very proud of each and every one of them. We were down, but were never out.

It was a great life lesson for me to see what can happen when we choose to believe in the midst of adversity in a situation that looks bleak.

I love these kids, and no matter what happens from here, they are champions in my book!!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Thoughts from the Cracker Barrel Rocker

There are a lot of things that just don't make sense to me. But, as I have grown older - and hopefully wiser - I have come to a sobering realization: I don't need to completely understand everything to accept it.

I thought about this yesterday afternoon as I sat on the front porch of my house reading a book. Several times I was ditracted by the sound of the 40 MPH wind knocking the branches of trees against each other. I would look up every minute or so and see something both awesome and terrifying - 150-foot oak and poplar trees being tossed around as if they were toothpicks.

I looked from my far left to my far right and just took it all in. I had just left my brother-in-law's house, where a 100-foot poplar had been uprooted earlier that afternoon and thrown down on the driveway. I said a little prayer and asked God to protect our family and our neighbors from harm. From where I sat, it looked as though dozens of huge hardwoods would be snapped in two at any moment.

Then I thought about the reports of death and destruction from areas south of Atlanta, where the severe winds devastated families and communities. I realized that my prayer held significance in God's eyes, but I also knew that my family - and my house - were not immune to the damage that winds and falling trees can cause.

I thought to myself, "God Himself is controlling the wind. This isn't a drunk driver being irresponsible and getting behind the wheel of a car. This isn't a football player getting hit in his spine, causing paralysis. This isn't a homicidal maniac weilding a gun. This (the wind) is not controlled by man. This is completely in the hands of my Creator."

The thought did two things. For one, it calmed my spirit to know it was completely in God's hands. And two, it made me remember that when I decided to make God the Lord of my life, I surrendered to Him, no matter the circumstances.

God knows we have questions. Tough questions. Questions that keep us up an night, and ones that often cause a great deal of uncertainty. But, God asks us to trust. Not to fear, but to trust in Him. Through death, destruction, injustice, malice, hardship, rebellion, unrest, isolation, and anything else that causes us to ask "Why?"

Jesus's brother, James, had some things to say about not putting our complete trust in the Lord:

Anyone who doubts is like an ocean wave tossed around in a storm. If you are that kind of person, you can't make up your mind, and you surely can't be trusted. So don't expect the Lord to give you anything at all. James 1:6-8 (CEV)

Pretty harsh words, but they are right on the money. If we are like ocean waves, being tossed around in a storm, it means we are not grounded. It means we allow our circumstances to dictate our actions and emotions. It means we are inconsitent. Hence, that is why we cannot be trusted.

It's an all or nothing deal. You either trust God, or you don't.

I choose to believe. How about you?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A One and a Two

I just finished reading a book by Craig Groeschel entitled, Going All the Way: Preparing for a Marriage that Goes the Distance. Although the book is primarily targeted towards singles and engaged couples, the messages, principles, and stories Groeschel shares are equally applicable to those (like me) who have been married for several years.

Perhaps the idea that has spoken to me the most is this: my wife is not “the One.” Let me explain, as the author himself did after making a similar statement. When many of us are dating, we are on a mission to find “the one” for us. The person who will complete us. The one who will help us start a family. The one we’ll grow old with. The one to whom we subject our endless quirks, habits, and bodily functions. The one who puts up with us despite the list of those unspeakable qualities that make us uniquely us.

But, as Groeschel points out, “order matters to God.” In terms of priority (for those of us who call ourselves Christians), any mate – or potential mate – cannot be “the One.” Only Jesus Christ, God’s one and only Son who died for us should be called The One.

When you look at the scriptures (which are the guidelines for all we do as followers of Christ), Jesus made it very clear what is most important. When the religious leaders of his day asked him what the most important commandment is, he responded by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

Simply put, that means God takes first place in the hearts of his children. It’s not up for debate.

So, as Groeschel states, if God is #1 in our lives, then our spouse earns the title of Number Two. Not #1, and not #4. Two. Second ONLY to God Himself. When we put it in those terms, that sounds pretty awesome, doesn’t it?

Think about it. If your spouse were to say, “the only one who I esteem more…hold in higher regard, adore more…than my husband (or wife) is the Lord God,” then count yourself blessed! And, this is the way God intended it from the beginning.

And, if I am being quite honest, I believe this is the only marriage arrangement God will truly bless. Firstly, if someone (or something) has taken precedent over The One in your life, you will not be able to discern His voice. He’ll be speaking to you, but you won’t be able to see Him or hear Him.

Second, if you are married and your spouse isn’t Number Two, your entire household will suffer. Your work will suffer. Your prayer life will suffer. Order matters.

When God created Adam, he saw that something was missing. Scripture tells us that God recognized that it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone on the earth. So, he created “a suitable helper.” Not a replacement for God. And, not someone to rule over. A helper. A mate.

1 Peter 3:7 says that “husband and wife are to share in the gift of life that lasts forever.” Another translation of that verse says they are “heirs of the gracious gift of life.”

Which makes it even more important that we get the order right.

God One. Spouse Two. And, if you have children, they are collectively Number Three (in case you were wondering).

Put them in the proper order, and you’ll see just how well-ordered your life can be – with God at the top!

Monday, May 5, 2008

It's Do or Die

Tonight we begin our foray into the Kennesaw Pinto League season-ending double-elimination baseball tournament. This is "do or die" time for each team.

It's the time of year when the regular season record gets swept aside, and each team is given new life in the chase for the crown.

Isn't it funny how much more intense things become when something is on the line? Not to say that our regular season games aren't intense. But, when it's "sudden death," it adds a whole new meaning to the competition.

It's really not any different in life, is it? I mean, when we are chasing something, we are more focused. More intent. Almost desperate in our pursuit.

Please know this: there is always something on the line - each and every moment of our lives. Our integrity. Our character. Our family's well-being and security. Our hope for a bright future.

The enemy would like to deceive you into believing that it's OK to just go with the flow and to blend in. To not distinguish yourself from the crowd. To be accepted at all costs. But, that is when we get into trouble - when we fail to realize that so many things hang in the balance each and every moment of our lives.

Fortunately, even when we stumble, God often treats it like a double-elimination tournament. He gives us a second chance. He asks us to repent and confess our wrongs. And, he restores and renews our hearts and our faith in Him. But, that doesn't mean there are not consequences.

Always be conscious that each moment of your life is "do or die." What we "do" or "don't do" has potentially far-reaching repercussions far beyond ourselves. On the flip side, we have an awesome opportunity to spread positive tremors throughout our spheres of influence.

Every moment counts.