Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Don't Pass Me!

If you have kids, chances are you've learned some profound lessons from their childish and selfish behavior. In fact, the more you watch young children interact, you'll likely pick up on the fact that it's not too dissimilar from adults.

All this week on our trip to Charleston, S.C., there's a phrase I've heard my 4-year old shriek more often than Amy and I belting out the words "NO!" or "Stop that!" It's just three seemingly insignificant words, but uttered like the most menacing villain to ever walk the earth: "DON'T PASS ME!"

You see, Chandler is a natural leader. Just ask him. Or, better yet, try to walk in front of him. He will take you down. He wants to be in front. The problem is, so does his 8-year old brother. So, about 20 times each day, Amy and I have to threaten our boys to within inches of their lives - all because they both want to be FIRST.

We've tried to explain the whole Biblical notion of "He who is first is last in the Kingdom of God, and he who is the least is the greatest" (etc.), but the impact of those words doesn't pack as much punch with two young, hyperactive male siblings as it would with a meek and reasonable person later on their years.

But, what I've witnessed with my two boys isn't much different than how I catch myself thinking and acting. You can probably relate. You see, when I see people "pass" me - whether it's intellectually, financially, in wisdom, manner, respect (anything, really), it gets my attention. And, by that, I mean that it often will get in my craw. I'll wonder how they got ahead of me. I'll think, "What do they have that I don't?" Or, I'll just come up with rationalizations to explain the situation just to make myself feel better.

None of us likes to be passed. We want to be in front. We want the best view. The top rung on the ladder. The top notch on the totem pole. When we aren't out in front, we become insecure, and many times we'll do whatever it takes to get back in "the lead" - no matter the cost to ourselves and those who love us the most.

In the end, we've got to use the correct standard by which we should measure ourselves, and worry less about where others stand.
When we seek to serve, and to take the back seat, and to allow people to pass us - we see things much differently. And, we can rest assured that the eternal rewards we'll earn for putting others first will far surpass the fleeting ones we devour in this life.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Week with My Favorite People

Those who know me well (and even those that barely know me) can tell you that I really enjoy going on trips and spending vacations with my wife and kids. It's been a running joke that has followed me around since I began working for a living back in 1996: "Where is C.A. this time?"

In fact, at my previous job I was often ridiculed for actually using my vacation time. I almost had a falling out with a friend at work because he just couldn't stop making wise cracks about the fact that I would actually choose to spend vacation days I had earned to go away for a few days at a time with my family. Initially, I laughed it off. Then, I started to get defensive. And, finally, I refused to take it any more and fired back.

He admitted he had taken it a little too far and he apologized. And, I don't have any hard feelings over it. But, I refuse to allow the fact that others don't spend time with their families or go on vacation to deter me from doing it with mine.

Amy told me the other day that she thought that I'd become a professional traveler if I could get away with it. She may be right. I obsess over every detail of a trip. And, it's not stressful at all. it's invigorating! I love planning trips!

But, even more than that, I enjoy getting away with my loved ones. Planning to vacation is fun, but it would be pointless if I had no one to spend these priceless moments with.

This week, we're staying in Charleston, South Carolina. Already, we have hit the beach, the pool, Patriot's Point (click photo above for an even better look), and some great local eateries. And, we have some more great things planned the rest of the week. And, as funny as this sounds, I am bummed that we only have 4 1/2 days left on our trip.

Oh well...guess it'll be time to start planning the NEXT getaway!!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Grabbing the Snake's Tail

Man, taking a risk is tough stuff. We work so hard to build "security," that we often get to a point when we either think we have it made, or we pass up opportunities to enrich our lives even more by going out on a limb.

This morning, I heard a great reminder about the endless possibilities that God has awaiting us...if we trust him.

Mike Linch (our Sr. Pastor) shared a lesson from the life of Moses - perhaps the greatest leader ever to walk the earth. The funny thing is that Moses had no clue how incredible of a leader he was - or that he could become. He did his very best to try and talk God out of using him to change the course of history.

Moses was a "but" guy. Every time God would explain to him what he was supposed to do, Moses replied with a "but." He came up with every excuse in the book. However, God knew Moses better than Moses knew himself.

During his encounter with the famed burning bush, Moses' outlook changed. He went from being a "but" guy to becoming an "OK, I suppose" guy. It wasn't until later that he fully trusted God...but one step at a time.

For 40 years, Moses meandered through the Midian wilderness tending sheep. He had been on the run for quite a while, and settled down with his wife's family. It wasn't luxurious by any stretch, but it was "safe."

But, in the end, I'm certain God knew that for Moses, being a shepherd wasn't fulfilling. And, I feel confident in saying that Moses - deep down - knew that he had been spared from Pharaoh's hand as an infant for a reason. He knew God had plans for him - big ones.

But, one thing Moses likely never had to lean on during those 40 years as a shepherd was his trust in God. He felt forgotten and disqualified. And, while God wasn't finished with him, it was ultimately up to Moses to take the next step.

The turning point came when God (speaking out of the bush) told Moses to throw his staff on the ground. Doing so, Moses witnessed the wooden rod turn into a snake. God then instructed Moses to pick up the snake - by the tail! I, for one, would run from a snake. But, Moses lived in the wilderness, and surely knew that IF you picked up a snake, you did it by the head, so it couldn't dig its fangs into you.

But, Moses was obedient - and trusted God. So, he grabbed the tail of the snake, and it turned back into the staff he would later use to deliver a nation - God's nation - from slavery.

When we're wandering through life after years in the wilderness, God may be asking us to pause and turn our eyes on Him. He may even ask us to grab the snake by the tail - to boldly and confidently trust in His ability - not ours.
It'll likely be the only way we'll escape the wilderness, and discover the amazing things He has waiting for us on the other side.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The 2sday 10

Amy and I just watched The Bucket List the other day, so this post comes on the heels of dreaming of what "could be" someday.

Here's my Top 10 "bucket list" items. Of course, this is subject to change as I grow older (and wiser).
  • Tour of Italy - Rome, Florence, Venice, Pisa, Milan, Naples - the whole country
  • Build a vacation home in the Jackson, WY area (or, at least in Blue Ridge, GA)
  • See a baseball game in each Major League ballpark
  • Celebrate my 50th Anniversary with Amy
  • Write a book
  • Take my grandkids to Disney World and spoil them rotten
  • Go on an African Safari
  • Travel to Egypt - see the Nile, pyramids, Sphinx
  • Visit the Holy Land
  • Visit the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY
What's on YOUR bucket list? Please share!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Too Smart to Know Jesus?

I gotta say that there's something that has really been eating at me for the past couple days. Although I was not a direct witness to this, a conversation was relayed to me that has saddened me quite a bit.

Apparently, a mom made the comment that she was not going to able to sign her son up for Adventure Week (our version of Vacation Bible School - but really amped up) because the dad said he "didn't want his son brainwashed."

If you are a believer, and Christ is the center of your life, it's tough for those words not to sting. Not because we feel threatened, or because we are weak in our faith. But, because we w
ant to take up for God. We want to have His back, just like He has ours.

Fortunately, I didn't allow the statement to penetrate too deep. The thing is, there are a lot of people who believe this. They believe followers of Christ are weak-minded. Gullible. Misled.

But, as much as the comment bothered me, it has saddened me even more. I am sad because this person doesn't know God like I least not yet.

The great news is that God speaks to unbelievers every day. He pricks hearts and draws people to Him all the time. He is pursuing all the time, and often times even the most staunch atheists cannot escape the grip of His love for them.

In his outstanding book Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller writes, "I couldn't give myself to Christianity because it was a religion for the intellectually naive. In order to believe Christianity, you either had to reduce enormous theological absurdities into children's stories or ignore them. The entire thing seemed very difficult for my intellect to embrace."

It wasn't until a friend of his told him a story about Navy SEALs freeing hostages in a dark part of the world that he was more able to identify with following Christ. As the story went, these Navy SEALs dropped out of a helicopter, then stormed into the room where hostages had been imprisoned for months. The hostages were huddled together in a corner, lying on the floor, terrified. The SEALs began yelling for the hostages to get up and follow them - that they were Americans. But, the hostages didn't move.

An idea struck one of the SEALs. Miller says, "He put down his weapon, took off his helmet, and curled up tightly next to the other hostages, getting so close that his body touched some of theirs. He softened the look on his face and put his arms around them. He was trying to show them he was one of them."

It wasn't until the SEAL did this that the hostages trusted their rescuers and followed them to freedom.

Miller continues, "When I understood that the decision to follow Jesus was very much like the decision the hostages had to make to follow their rescuer, I knew then that I needed to decide whether or not I would follow Him. The decision was simple once I asked myself,
Is Jesus the Son of God? Are we being held captive in a world run by Satan, a world filled with brokenness? And, do I believe Jesus came to rescue me from this condition?"

Most people who don't yet know Jesus have never felt that they need to be rescued from anything. The fact is that most people don't come to know Christ (or come back to him) when things in their personal world are going great. But, there's always a time when that will change.

As Chuck Swindoll puts it, it's those times when the crutches of life are kicked out from under us. That's when we realize there's nothing - or no one - to lean on but God.

Call me ignorant. Call me gullible. Call me weak-minded. That's fine. But, it's not my mind that tells me to follow Jesus. It's my heart.
And, when a heart breaks, only God can mend it.

I pray for those who don't yet have a relationship with a God who loves beyond measure. The great news is that He's always there - and anxious - to welcome them into His family.

Monday, June 9, 2008

God's Outside the Box

I don't know about you, but even though I don't mean to do it, I have a tendency to put God in a box. I think God must be like "this" or "that." If I do "this," then God will reward me "this" way. Or, if I am selfish, mean, inconsiderate, or disobedient, God will do "that" to reprimand me.

I read about God in the Bible, and sometimes it is just really difficult to identify with Moses or Paul or others who have had "direct" encounters with God. I mean, they literally had conversations with God while they were on the earth. As much as I know for a fact that these things happened just like we read them, it can almost seem mythical at times. Like, "that was cool for those guys, but God doesn't work like that any more."

And, it's true. He doesn't work like that anymore. You know why? Because while God Himself is unchanging, His methods for loving and watching after His children continue to change. God is unpredictable, and we cannot pin Him down. If we (man) could figure God out, we wouldn't need Him, right?

Along these lines, I have recently read a book that has completely transformed my view of God. The words contained in the pages of this book are tough to read at times. They will weigh heavy on you. They will take you to your knees. But, they will also fill your spirit. They will warm your heart. They will open your mind and your heart to a God who is so much bigger than you can imagine.

The book is called The Shack, and was written by William P. Young.

You need to read it. Today. As soon as you can get your paws on it.

When you do, you'll catch just a tiny glimpse into how good God is, how much He loves us, and what eternity holds for those who have trusted in Him. And, you'll understand even more why God cannot be put in a box.

Check out the
web site for the book, and see what others are saying about The Shack. Or, go ahead and order the book, or pick it up at your local bookstore.

You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Clanging Cymbals

My wife and I took our two sons, ages 8 and 4, to eat at Moe's Southwest Grill the other night (welcome to MOOOOOOOOE's!). We were hanging out on the patio, stuffing our faces with burritos and nachos, when we were interrupted by an inconsiderate teenager.

The teenager opened the patio door and began yelling profanities at his friend, who was sitting near us eating dinner with his girlfriend. At first, I tried to ignore it, but after a couple curse words, I snapped my head around and glared at him. He immediately knew I was steaming, and reached a hand out and said, "I'm sorry."

I understand that he didn't realize that there were kids there. But, in the end, does that really matter? If my young children were not there, does it make it any better for someone to casually use profanity?

I wrote about this a few months ago, and actually had some interesting exchanges with folks who have opinions different than mine.
I just see no excuses for using profanity in regular, day-to-day conversations.

Striking your thumb while hammering a nail is one reason one may blurt a 4-letter word. But, talking with a friend or co-worker in the company of complete strangers is another thing altogether.

Corinthians 13:1 says this: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (NIV)

To me, this says that if I am running my mouth just to hear myself speak, and I am not speaking with love or consideration for others, I am just a noise-maker. An airhorn. A clanging cymbal.

Look, I realize we all run our mouths way too much, regardless of whether or not we use profanity. I talk WAY too much. I find myself personifying the clanging cymbal all too often. But, senseless profanity and vulgarity is always a clanging cymbal - not only to others, but to God. He wants us to use words and language to edify. Not to look cool. Not to fit in. Not to build up our own egos.

If you use profanity from time to time (or perhaps more frequently), pray that God will work in and through you to remove this bad habit. Choose your words carefully.

You never know who's listening.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Dreams Draw Critics

OK, I have a confession. I really need to heed the sage advice I am about to espouse to those of you reading this. I am a critic. I am always analyzing things and trying to identify weaknesses. Chinks in the armor. The Achilles heel of that which I am judging. It’s a curse in many ways.

I have really tried my best to improve in this area. I, like you, am often times more concerned with inflating my own ego, and less concerned about the damage my words and opinions cause to others. I like to appear smarter than I really am, and I especially enjoy it when you appear vulnerable. It makes me sick to even admit this, but like Metallica once sang, “It’s Sad but True.”

It’s so easy to be critical. Too easy. It’s much easier to sit back and deride, derail, and deflate what you are doing rather than stepping up and pitching in. I can be critical from a distance. I can be critical without any direct knowledge of what you are truly trying to accomplish. I can even be critical anonymously – which is truly the most cowardly thing I can do.

And, I do these things because somehow I feel threatened. If things are changing around me, I may opt to launch an offensive to suppress what you hope to achieve. The good you are trying to do. The lives you are really wanting to affect.

I am selfish. I can take you down in a variety of ways. I can make a snide remark to make myself feel better and undermine all the hard work you and your organization have put in. I can gossip to try to get people in my corner. Or, I can discourage you to the point of giving up. Because, often times that is exactly what we want, isn’t it? We want to dash people’s hopes and dreams.

I have been studying the life of Nehemiah, and reading a fantastic book called Visioneering by Andy Stanley. You see, Nehemiah had a vision that came from God. The vision was to rebuild the city walls around Jerusalem. He wasn’t even living in Jerusalem, but when he heard that the walls had been torn down, his heart ached. He prayed, fasted, and waited patiently for God to speak to Him. And, when God answered, He placed on Nehemiah’s heart a burden to rebuild walls that had been destroyed 90 years earlier.

But, Nehemiah’s task was not easy. He had to find favor with the king (his boss) to go and begin the work. He had to secure the resources to do the job. He had to recruit thousands of demoralized Israelites to help him with the task. But, more than any other obstacle he faced, perhaps the most dangerous to the vision were the critics.

None of Israel’s surrounding countries were too upset at the condition of the walls. They knew that without fortification, Israel posed no threat. But, when Nehemiah came on the scene, that changed. The Israelites had new life. They had hope. They were pumped.

That’s when the critics typically come on the scene. When they feel threatened. And, that’s exactly what happened here. Outsiders began to discourage the people. They said rebuilding the wall was impossible. They criticized the workmanship of the wall itself. And, finally, they threatened to attack Jerusalem from each side if the building of the wall continued.

But, Nehemiah re-cast the vision to the people. He stood firm. He refused to come down from the wall. He remained committed to God, and to the vision God had given to him.

And, that’s what we have to do when we’re criticized. We have to stand strong and be confident. We have to rally the troops. And, we have to prepare ourselves for attack – all while staying focused on seeing the dream through until the end.

So, we each have a choice to make here. We can be critics and cowards, or we can be teammates. We can push back against those trying to make a difference, or grab the rope and help them pull. As I heard someone once say, we can either use rocks to hurl at people, or use bricks to build them up.

Resist the urge to be critical. Instead, do all you can to help others achieve something positive. You never know…you just may catch the vision yourself!