Friday, October 28, 2011

Church and Halloween

Let me preface this by saying that the opinions I share in this post are generalizations about churches - not anything personally directed at you or your church. I am a pastor at a church. I LOVE the church, and would never want to say anything do it harm. But, I do think it's OK to challenge people's thinking.

Each Halloween, I get a little bit agitated. Don't get me wrong - I love the frivolity of the costumes, the spookiness of the season (not REAL spookiness, mind you), and of course the booty of candy my kids bring in that night (plus any leftovers the in-laws may have). No, my ire has nothing to do with Halloween itself. It's many churches' approach to Halloween that raises my blood pressure.

Like you, I drive by countless churches during the month of October with signs, banners, and LED boards with these three words: Trunk or Treat. Clever.

But, this idea has evolved over the decades. When I was growing up, my school always held a Fall Festival. There were games, crafts, costumes, dunk tanks, apple bobbing, and lots of good food. The church - lacking in creativity - adopted this idea and began holding their own Fall Festivals. Same idea, but just lots of church people, with lots of church fundraisers mixed in.

In general, when it came to Halloween, the church has been against it. The Fall Festival was, in theory, a way to get people together to celebrate the autumn season, while in no way acknowledging Halloween. One online resource I read says, "the term was created to replace the traditional Halloween party because of fundamentalist rhetoric that Halloween is a satanic holiday. It is not a satanic holiday, by the way. It is a celebration of the autumn equinox which has been celebrated by Christians for many centuries, and by pagans for many centuries before that."

Here's how I believe churches evolved the idea from Fall Festival to "Trunk or Treat." Churches that offered a Fall Festival noticed that their congregants were still being drawn into the secular world of All Hallow's Eve. Families who attended a Fall Festival on October 25 were still going trick-or-treating on October 31. Churches thought they would "wise up" and offer something which would force families to choose between their ultra-safe, insider-focused church event and trick-or-treating, which involves families being around - oh my word - people who don't go to church. The horrors!

So, the church, once again incredible in its ingenuity, came up with the term "Trunk or Treat" to make sure we all knew that it was staking its claim on this "holiday." They said, "We'll still allow kids to wear costumes, we'll hand out candy, and we'll replace those wacky tricks people play on one another with sitting in the trunk of your car (or tailgate of your truck). In doing this, churches who have a Trunk or Treat have communicated to their congregants, "We don't have a problem with Halloween or with trick-or-treating. We just don't want you doing it with your un-churched friends in your neighborhoods."

Do I believe all churches who hold a Trunk or Treat think this way? Certainly not. But, I do think these churches need to really think through the real reasons they are holding the event. If it's for safety, I'd say, "When is the last time any you know actually got a razor blade in an apple, or were poisoned by candy?"

Most churches already have the reputation for being too insider-focused. They consider reaching their community holding a Trunk or Treat or Vacation Bible School. Instead, I believe churches need to be looking for more opportunities to serve others outside their walls, and empowering their people to influence others - even through trick-or-treating with their families.

BTW - I pulled the Trunk or Treat image above off a church website.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

First Impressions

You’ve seen them. Some wear headphones and dance. Some wear costumes – maybe a Mickey Rat, or a faux Easter Bunny, or Lady Liberty. Still others just chill in a tailgating chair, or perhaps just pace back and forth. Who are they? They’re the “sign holders.” Pizza places, chicken finger restaurants, tax preparers, or used car lots employ them. They are the hired guns. They are on the front lines.

But, here’s the deal. When I see a business whose primary marketing strategy is to throw a dude carrying a sign out on the road – costume or not – I almost always discard that business from consideration for my hard-earned dollars. To me, it conveys several messages to the consumer. First, it tells me that you are trying to take shortcuts in your advertising plan. Second, it tells me that you have not established a rapport with the community. Businesses are typically built on relationships, not on the sign-holder. When you are putting the sign holder out on the street, you are telling me that you are too lazy to build relationships.

Finally, it comes across to me as desperate. Perhaps a business has attempted to “microwave” relationships with those in the community, and word-of-mouth just isn’t spreading like they had hoped. The balloons and jumpies and weird wavy inflatable stick thingies haven’t drawn the anticipated crowd. So, the owner finally caves and says, “Let’s hire a sign guy.” It’s the last straw many times.

For all of these reasons, I don’t typically patronize these businesses. If people aren’t talking about it, then it’s probably not a place I am going to check out. And, really, if you are a business owner, do you want the VERY FIRST impression of your business to be the dude sitting in the lawn chair with an upside-down sign sitting in his lap?

Despite the public perception (or just mine), I sincerely doubt that business owners want the public to feel this way about their establishments. They fail to realize that they are, in fact, creating a brand image for their product – a negative one in many cases. The message that their target audience is receiving isn’t likely the one they had intended. But, as many have said before, perception is reality many times.

The same happens with us as individuals. We send messages to those around us each and every day – whether we realize it or not. And, while you may say to yourself, “I don’t care what people think about me,” I believe you need to. Admit it or not, we need people to like us in order for us to thrive. You may be able to get away with being a self-absorbed prima donna for a while, and fool people into believing that you are just “eccentric” or “unique.” But, that will only take you so far.

If you are an artist, a teacher, a musician, a contractor, a homemaker, or a banker, people are forming impressions of you all the time. They base this on the “signs” that you put on display every day: your attitude, your demeanor, your tone of voice, your word choice. And, yes, your appearance! Greasy hair, clothing that is too revealing, clothing that is too baggy, tattoos, piercings – people notice these things and form opinions. You cannot escape it. On the other hand, people also form opinions about people who wear a suit and tie, khaki shorts, flip-flops, or a certain brand of tennis shoe. We all have our own "personal style."

Am I saying to be a “sell-out” to please others? No. But, I am saying that in order to get where we need to be, or want to be, we should consider others – because we do need others in our lives.

Despite the moniker, there’s really no such thing as the “self-made man.” Each of us has built a “brand” for ourselves over time. These are impressions that others have of us before they ever even interact with us. For example, we may have never owned or driven a Ferrari, but we each have thoughts and feelings about that brand. Likewise, based on what people witness in you, they draw conclusions about the brand you “wear” each day. The question is – Is this the message you intended to send?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Embrace the Challenge

Crossword Puzzles. Jigsaw Puzzles. Tying your shoes for the first time. Sports. TV Game Shows. Running a Marathon. Earning a certification for your vocation or career. Solving Rubik’s Cube.

All of these have something in common. They present challenges. At least they should. That’s the reason we attempt them, right? If no challenge was involved, would we even try? OK, maybe “tying your shoes” can be eliminated here, but if you ever watch a four or five-year old tying their shoes, you can’t help but get tickled by the focus and concentration painted on their little faces.

So, if things like game shows, puzzles, and sports keep us interested and enthusiastic about them because of the competition involved, and inner strength required to reach great heights, why do we not approach life the same way?

Sometimes I get into this mode where I just want things to go smoothly. It’s called “being human.” It basically happens every day. Smooth days are nice. Bumpy – not so much. But, if life is always smooth, and I never encounter adversity in my path, am I truly reaching my God-given potential? If I am not pushed relationally, emotionally, spiritually, or intellectually, I am settling. And, perhaps worse than that, I could be regressing.

Think about the most difficult path you’ve walked in your life. When you look in the rearview mirror of your years on earth, did that event or trial strengthen you, or did it weaken you? I’m not necessarily talking about death of a loved one, or sickness or some other devastating event. I am talking about those times you had to dig deep, work hard, and give it your all. In hindsight, were you glad you gave 100%, or was it a complete waste of time?

Occasionally, it’s nice to receive a hand-out. As a baseball coach, it’s a relief sometimes to not toil over who to pitch in the last inning, or who to put behind the plate when it’s 95 degrees outside. But, the most rewarding “wins” are the ones where everyone is putting it all on the line, and you eek out that one-run victory on a bases-clearing double. Those are the ones you celebrate the most. But it’s not the hit itself that wins the game. It’s the attitude the hitter has in the box.

In his book, If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat, John Ortberg talks quite a bit about those things that hold us back from achieving our best. It’s the “what if” moments that cause discouragement to creep in. Ultimately, it’s a lack of confidence that creates something that destroys the joy in our lives: fear.

So, if fear destroys joy, then (as Ortberg writes) “challenge produces joy.” The payoff for the base hit isn’t just the “W” in the victory column; it’s the joy you get from meeting – and overcoming – the challenge. If our baseball team was undefeated, and had won each game by ten or more runs, we’d be over-confident. We wouldn’t know exactly what our best truly is. We wouldn’t aspire to become better. We’d go through the motions and settle for “good” when “best” is there for the taking.

And so it is with our lives. We trudge through our days, going to work, paying the bills, getting the kids ready, talking about the weather, lamenting about this and that. Generally speaking, we have what we “want” – a nice house, two cars (or more), some gadgets and gizmos, a decent job, and a few friends.

What we fail to realize is that if we will challenge ourselves – really push ourselves – we can reach new heights. We can accomplish great things and influence countless lives. But, all too often we are complacent about “the unknown.” And, if we’re not complacent, we’re just plain scared. But, as I tell my players, “You can’t play scared.”

Ortberg writes that “fear and joy are fundamentally incompatible.” When I wonder “what if” and think about all the worst-case scenarios, I am snuffing out joy.

And, who wants to be a joy-snuffer?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

First Things First

There are two words that have been burned into my brain. It started when I began dating my now-wife Amy. Her dad, David, always used these two words when he would speak to her and her two brothers. Every so often, he would utter this simple phrase that painted a picture of his expectations of his family, and of others in general: “Privileges and Responsibilities.”

I think of this phrase often. In fact, my kids have become familiar with “P & R” as the standard of what is expected of them. They have Grandpa to thank for that.

Here’s how it works: when you show that you are responsible, then you earn privileges. It’s that simple. And, although the word “privileges” comes first when we speak that phrase, demonstrating responsibility must always precede earning privileges. If it doesn’t, bad things happen.

Unfortunately, we now live in a society that rewards bad behavior and irresponsibility. Kids (and adults) get away with murder. Why? Because there are rarely any REAL consequences to negative and harmful behavior. Andy Stanley, Senior Pastor at NorthPoint Community Church, coined perhaps the best phrase to explain this phenomenon: What’s rewarded is repeated.
What Stanley means is this: when someone hurts someone else, or does damage to something, or is just outright mean, but is never disciplined for this behavior, that very behavior continues. NOT punishing the individual is actually rewarding the behavior.

I think about the destructive attitude of self-entitlement that so many people carry with them, and how it reinforces this endless cycle. It’s a “do it first, ask questions later” mentality. There’s no honor in it. The privilege has not been earned, but is taken anyway.
Perhaps someone decides to borrow a tent without asking permission from someone. They take the tent, use it, and return it. But, the tent top wasn’t cleaned. The stakes and tie-downs are misplaced. There’s sand and dirt everywhere inside the bag. All the person thinks is, “I borrowed the tent and returned it. See – no big deal.” But, the next time the owner of the tent gets it out, it’s a mess. And, now he or she has to clean it up.

Maybe you ask to drive your friend’s van or truck because you need to load something, and your Prius won’t cut it. You pick up the load of stuff, then unload and return the vehicle. But, it never occurs to you to check the backseat and cargo areas. There’s soot and debris in the floorboards. And, you neglected to see the candy bar wrapper and empty Styrofoam cup you left in the front. Not to mention the three gallons of gas you used on your trip. Will the owner be as willing to help you in the future?

This all may sound nit-picky, but it’s a big deal. And, it’s cyclical: what goes around comes around. You reap what you sow. The Golden Rule. All those clich├ęs and sayings are so true when it comes to how our actions and behaviors either come back to either haunt us or to repay us later.

And, guess what they all come back to? That’s right – Privileges and Responsibilities. When we can speak to people with honor and respect, can treat others’ possessions as our own, and demonstrate that we are trustworthy, we will earn rewards and privileges as a result.

But, if we fail to show responsibility on the front end, and we try to take privileges before we’ve earned them, we dig ourselves a huge hole. And, that is when the responsibilities really begin to pile up, and there’s a long way to go before trust can be gained.

Just put first things first – responsibility and respect – and see how everything can begin to fall into place, and how eager people will be to find ways to return the favor.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"Let" Him In

The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: "Don't push these children away. Don't ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God's kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you'll never get in." Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them. Mark 10:13-16 (Message)

Don’t you wish you could go back and see the world through the eyes of a child? That wide-eyed enthusiasm, simplicity, care-free spirit, and longing for nothing but fun is something we, as adults, rarely see in one another. But, kids get it. Much more than we do.

And, sadly, just as the disciples did, we overlook the profound examples of faith children provide us. We brush them aside, and think we, as “big people” have all the right answers. But, if you read Jesus’ words in the passage above, you cannot escape Jesus’ disdain for this type of attitude. Jesus warns us that we had better not come between him and the children.

Children may not have the mental capacity to understand the deeper meanings and symbolism presented in scripture. They may not know the names of all 12 disciples. They may not even realize yet that there is an Old Testament and a New Testament. But, Jesus never told us these things were important. There was only one bit of truth that he wanted us to grasp: that He came, died, and was risen to new life for us.

I was reminded of this recently with my own son, Chandler. He just turned 7. We were at the dinner table, and had just said the blessing. My wife had prayed for a friend, asking God that this woman would see the need for Him in her life. When she finished, my 11-year old son said, “I thought she was a Christian.” My wife replied that this lady had been to church, but had not asked Jesus in her heart.

So, Chandler responds, “Well, how do you do that?” Great question. One we have prayed he would ask.

We proceeded to have a discussion about God, Jesus, the problem of sin, the life and death of Jesus, and His resurrection. This was nothing new to Chandler. He knows “the facts.” But, I could see something was stirring inside him.

Later that evening, I called Chandler to come upstairs. We sat on his bed, and I asked him if he remembered the discussion we had at dinner about Jesus and how we can be with him in heaven if we tell him that we believe in him. He said, “Yeah. Can I do that right now?” Wow. Be still my heart.

I asked him some questions to make absolutely certain that he understood what was happening. He did. I said, “Buddy, if you know that Jesus died for your sins, and that you want to be with him in heaven when you leave earth, then you don’t have to wait any more. You can do it right now.”

He said, “I want to do it right now.”

I took his little hands in mine, and we prayed. It was one of the most tender, special moments of my life. While it was quiet and peaceful in his bedroom, I can guarantee you there was a party like none other that was being held in heaven at that moment.

Later that night, Chandler got to tell his mom and his brother about the decision he made. More tears of joy, more laughter and hugs and kisses.

Then, he wanted to call his grandparents. With each of his grandparents taking turns individually, Chandler explained matter-of-factly, “I let Jesus in my heart.”

He “let” him in. I was immediately struck by the profound nature of his choice of words. He didn’t say that he asked Jesus in. He seemed to understand that he didn’t need to ask. He just needed to “let.” Jesus was ready. And, on May 2, 2011, so was Chandler.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Inhumane Society

It’s embarrassing. Downright maddening. Sad. Pathetic. And, I am sometimes guilty of it myself. Perhaps you are as well.

I coach basketball and, right now, baseball. I love it. It consumes me, but I so enjoy the opportunity to help coach and teach kids that it’s worth the sacrifice.

But, I’ve seen a lot of ugliness on the court and on the field. Humans become monsters. Throwing tantrums. Lacking self-control. Unsportsmanlike behavior. Boos. Stomping feet. Ridicule. Emotions off the charts. And, guess what…it’s usually not the kids. It’s the coaches, parents, and grandparents!

As the head coach of several teams over the years, I have contested many calls that officials and umpires have made. I am pretty critical of them, and will not hesitate to express my bewilderment at a brutal call. I have never used profanity or made a personal comment to anyone. I am normally able to reign it in, but two years ago it got the best of me. The pitch got by the catcher, and I sent the runner from third base to try and score him. The catcher flipped the ball to the catcher in time to make the tag, but the pitcher reached for the runner, and tagged him high on the chest when he slid. He was clearly safe, but the umpire called him out. That run would have tied the game!

Instead of just saying, “Umpires are human, too. We all make mistakes,” I chose to run down the third base line and go all “Earl Weaver” on him. Maybe even a little Billy Martin. I got down on my hands and knees and pointed to the precise spot that the tag was made. I then cleared off the plate with my bare hands to demonstrate where my runner slid to beat the tag. I did everything but pull a Lou Piniella and throw bases across the field. Did it change the call? No. Did I look foolish? Likely.

This was 9 & 10-year old recreational baseball. Last I checked, there are no professional scouts in the stands. No high school or college coaches, either. Even if there were, it wouldn’t excuse that behavior.

There is a difference, however, between the head coach arguing a call, and a parent or spectator in the stands. The officials make it clear that they only want to hear from the head coach if there is a dispute. So, as a head coach, I am defending my players. I am working on their behalf to make sure the umpires do their very best. If there is an issue with another coach or player, it is my responsibility to address it with that coach. No one else should be involved in it.

But, it doesn’t always happen that way. Not in baseball, not in school, not in life. People are often undignified and accusatory. They do not speak in a civil manner to those with whom they disagree. They think the world of themselves, but see the worst in others. Umpires included.

We often utter the over-used, disingenuous phrase, “It’s for the kids.” But, the kids are the last ones we are thinking about when we are berating, insulting, or putting down another human being. In the end, is it worth it?

Recently, an umpire made another terrible call – actually several of them – in a game I was coaching. We had the tying run on third base, and he called a third strike on a ball that was at my batter’s neck when it crossed the plate. That ended the inning, as well as our chances of winning the game. I let him know I didn’t agree with the call, and eventually walked away and let it go.

But, one of our fans wouldn’t let it go. He continued to voice his displeasure. And, after the game, he told the umpire that he was the worst umpire he’d ever seen. I asked him, “What good did that do?” He said, “Well, it made me feel better. I had to get it out of my system.”

As adults, we need to do a better job of being the types of role models kids not only look up to, but emulate. If we do, then when we say, “It’s just a game,” that’s what it’ll be. And, it’ll truly be for the kids, not an opportunity for adults to act like two-year olds.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Eye Spy

One of my kids’ favorite pastimes is to play “I Spy.” Not only is it a fun challenge for them, it also keeps them preoccupied when we are out to eat at a restaurant, and it allows the adults at the table to carry on a somewhat uninterrupted conversation. So, it’s encouraged.

It never fails that my kids – now ages 11 and 7 – can spot the most obscure of items, whether they are the “spyer” or the “guesser.” They are perceptive. They are quick. They can go beyond the obvious to discover the minuscule or insignificant if the task requires it.

Which begs this question: If my kids possess mad observation skills when they have to use brain power and patience, what do they see when things are in plain sight? How careful am I when I am around them? What about others, like teachers, friends’ parents, or coaches at the ball field, who have an immeasurable impact on shaping my child’s character? Do they realize – truly realize – that the spotlight is on them in a much more significant manner than a Broadway actor?

Our kids see. They witness our imperfections, our stumbles, our weaknesses, our tirades. They know when someone is being treated unfairly. They are keenly aware of adults who are “trouble.” They can pick up very quickly what is going on, as innocent as most of them are.

I am a dad to two boys, but I am also a coach to another 21 boys on the baseball field. It is a privilege like none other, and I do not take it lightly. I have the ability to shape – even just a tiny bit – who these young boys will grow up to be. The types of attitudes they will have, the type of friends they become, the kind of sports they will be in victory or defeat, and how they will respect and treat others. That is an awesome thing.

I was working with one of the kids on the team the other day. We were in the bullpen, and this young man was telling me about his experience on a team the year before. He suddenly said, “I don’t like Coach (insert coach’s name).” I had heard other parents and kids say the same thing, and all I could think about was how much of a shame it was that kids felt this way about a man who volunteers his time to coach. This was the same coach that I heard brought in a kid in the middle of an inning to pitch in relief. The kid who came in was allowed to throw one pitch – ONE – before the coach yanked him out of the game. Kids know. Kids see. Kids feel.

Eyes are on you whether you realize it or not, whether you like it or not. We have the power, as adults, to encourage, love, teach, and invest in children and teenagers. What we say and do around them – especially in our roles as parents – will either do them a world of good, or will send them down a tough road of pain, confusion, foolishness, and discouragement.

Just as kids see the worst in us, they also see the best in us. They know the adults they want to spend time with. They know the coaches they want to play for. They know the police officer who gives them a high five, or the teacher who gives them hugs. And, most of all, they know their moms and dads. And, their eyes are searching – always searching – to find someone they can follow.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Common Sense Marriage

The statistics are daunting. We constantly hear that half of all marriages end in divorce. I don’t even think it’s alarming any more. It’s just a given.

But, as Ted Lowe of MarriedPeople recently said, “I don’t believe that a marriage is supposed to be a statistic.”

So, how do we prevent the “good marriages” from becoming a divorce statistic? The answers are probably simpler than you think. At the end of the day, it’s all about common sense, which is likely to yield some pretty uncommon results.

1. Treat your spouse the way you want to be treated. Talk to him or her with love and respect. If you hate to be talked to sarcastically, chances are your spouse doesn’t care for it either. This doesn’t mean you have to use dignified or formal vocabulary. It’s all about the attitude of the heart.

2. “Cheat work” with your spouse, not the other way around. Striking a balance between your home life and your career is a challenge. However, few people, if any, ever regret cheating their work by spending more time with their families. On the other hand, the world is full of spouses who regret cheating their families by working 70-80+ hours per week, and missing important family events, ball games, etc.

3. Put the cell phone or computer away – especially during “alone time.” It’s bad enough if you work an extra 20-30 hours at the office. But, bringing your work home, and constantly checking your emails and texts from business associates may be just as troublesome. How do YOU feel when you are with someone who is always checking their phone, and won’t give you the attention you desire? It’s disheartening, and you likely don’t want to spend much time with that person in the future. Why should your marriage be any different?

4. Have fun. When you got married, did you think you would lead a dull, disconnected, aggravating life with your spouse? If you did, you wouldn’t have married them! So, rekindle the flames by making it a point to have a good time with your spouse. Stale marriages lack laughter and excitement. Go places, laugh, be merry, and show your spouse exactly how much you truly enjoy being with them!

5. Make your spouse the only “man” or “woman” in your life. We have a rule here at my office – men and women cannot ride in the same car alone, and they cannot be in the same office alone with a door shut. Sound a tad extreme? To some it may seem silly, but why ever put yourself in a compromising situation? Affairs rarely, if ever, happen in an instant. They usually evolve over time, and after several instances of spending time alone together. If you avoid the first time being alone with a member of the opposite sex, you won’t ever get to that dangerous fourth or fifth time. Put strict – and safe – guidelines in place now to avoid having a devastating crash later.

6. Do it because you love him/her. Does the house need to be vacuumed? Trash need to be taken out? Crumbs on the floor need to be swept up? Often, we’ll see things that need to be done, and grumble against our spouse. We do it so we can hold it over their heads, or so we won’t get yelled at. But, one man recently told me about a similar issue at his house. “I walked into the kitchen and saw all the dirty dishes in the sink. So, I went over and I washed them. And, I didn’t do it so I wouldn’t have to hear her complain about it. I did it so she wouldn’t have to clean them herself.”

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Hidden Gems

I just finished reading Tony Ingle's book, I Don't Mind Hitting Bottom, I Just Hate Dragging. Amy bought it for me for Christmas this past year. She has worked at Kennesaw State University for nearly 11 years now, and knows just about everyone who is on staff there - including Men's Head Basketball Coach Tony Ingle.

I truly picked up the book off my shelf last week for entertainment purposes. I have always heard that Coach Ingle is a witty guy, and I was in the need of a good laugh. Little did I know that I would learn some valuable lessons along the way.

Coach's story is among the most inspirational I have ever read. Of all the "comeback" and "down and out" stories that exist, his may be the most compelling - for a lot of reasons. You'll have to read to find out why I say that. And, while there are thousands of potential take-aways from the book, I found three in particular that will remain with me:

1. You can't be tired when it comes to your kids. Let me put this a different way: You can be tired, even feel like you are about to keel over. But, you can't say that to your kids. When you have worked all day, and walk through the front door at 6 or 7 p.m., you are ready to take a load off. Relax. Chill. But, your kids haven't seen you all day. They are excited you are home! If you want to do the right thing, you'll fight through it and play with your kids. Read to them, wrestle with them, shoot hoops with them, play cars in the floor with them. They don't deserve the get the "leftovers" from your day. Re-energize with a cup of coffee or Powerade...and spend that time with your little ones!

2. Tony Ingle says, "You are your habits." So, if you have a habit of starting things and never finishing them, you are a quitter. If you have a habit of not telling the truth, you are a liar. If you have a habit of not giving your best effort, you are an underachiever. You could fill in a million blanks here, but if we make negative behaviors into habits, then we become defined my those actions. On the flip side, if I make a habit of pouring my heart and soul into kids' lives, then that is who I will become. If I make a habit of tithing, then I will be a giver. It works both ways. Good habits make a great witness.

3. Relationships are critical. No matter how bad things got for Tony Ingle, he had a support system to help carry him through the darkest times in his life. It began in the home. Because he didn't compromise his family for his "dream" of winning a National Championship, they were there with him through thick and thin. Further, Tony was a master at networking and developing lifelong friendships with people wherever he went. Because Tony was a good friend to these people, they went to bat for him constantly. Further, he tirelessly volunteered at camps and clinics, where he met some of the most influential coaches and personalities in collegiate sports. Building relationships takes a lot of time and energy. People don't exist to serve you. You exist to serve others. And, when you do, people know you care, and they begin to care about you in return.

Pick up the book at the Kennesaw State University bookstore. You'll laugh a lot, and you may even shed a tear. But, you'll be better for reading Tony Ingle's story. And, if you're smart, you'll follow his lead by being fully present with your kids, embracing good habits, and investing in others' lives along the way.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Don't Bury that Treasure!

So, I finished Randy Alcorn's classic book entitled The Treasure Principle. I couldn't recommend the book more - it is absolutely spot on. I have recapped the Six Treasure Principle Keys that Alcorn shares in the book in previous blog entries. I hope you will read through them and allow them to sink in.

But, before I move on to another subject to blog about, I feel like I need to talk to those folks who are not currently giving to the Lord, or have never given selflessly and sacrificially to the church or to others in need.

As Alcorn points out in his book, giving isn't celebrated nearly enough. Perhaps because it comes across as showy or disingenuous - who knows. But, we need to talk about it more than we do. I think churches are so worried that they are going to offend people by talking about money that they rarely, if ever, challenge people to do what God asks us to do - give to Him, give and share with others, and help the poor.

Maybe you aren't quite sure where or how to start. To borrow Nike's slogan, you need to "just do it." Thinking about it, talking about it, and praying about it are fine. But, at some point, you've got to DO it. Even if we're scared, even if we're not "joyful" initially, we have got to get over the hump and pass on financial blessings to others.

I've always felt that if someone has never given to God (to the church), they need to start somewhere. If they have never given a red cent, they should start by giving two or three percent of their income, and watch God bless it. For someone who has never given, two or three percent seems substantial.

But, Alcorn paints a different picture entirely. The tithe (ten percent of our gross income) is not the ceiling of giving, claims Alcorn. It's the floor. In the Old Testament, the tithe was the standard. Some people argue that when Jesus came on the scene, the tithe became irrelevant. It was no longer the standard. Well, that is partially true. Jesus did make mention of the tithe when referring to the religious leaders of the day, primarily pointing out that they were all about the "rules," but were not truly after God's heart.

Also, when we read about the first Church, there's no evidence of a "tithe." But, there is evidence of giving and sharing everything with everyone. So, once again, the tithe seems to have been exceeded in order to provide for everyone in need. As Alcorn comments, the bar was always raised after Jesus came on the scene; it was never lowered. So, the bar for giving would have been raised as well.

I'm going to include an excerpt from the book to illustrate how Alcorn views giving less than the Biblical standard (tithe):

"Some say, 'We'll take this gradually. We're starting with 5 percent.' But that's like saying, 'I used to rob six convenience stores per year. This year, by His grace, I'm going to rob only three.' The point is not to rob God less - it's not to rob God at all."

I can definitely see Alcorn's point of view. The bottom line is that God is going to bless you back to the degree you are willing to be a blessing to someone else. If you give 1 or 2 percent, God will still bless that. But, if you give 10 or 15 percent, He'll bless you monumentally more. And, what you need to know is that God LOVES to pour out His blessing!

So, don't wait until it "feels right" to give. Give, and watch God work in and through you. And, like anything else in life, the more you do it, the better you'll get at it!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hypocrite, or Human?

A while back, I read an intriguing book entitled unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity...and Why it Matters, by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. Essentially, the book uncovers the results of three years of exhaustive research done by Kinnaman and the Barna Group, the leading faith-based research firm in the world. The research centers around the opinions and beliefs of 16-29 year-olds who candidly share their negative feelings towards Christianity.

One of the most interesting chapters of the book deals with hypocrites. First, it's critical that we understand what the word hypocrite truly means. defines hypocrite this way: a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess. It doesn't say that a hypocrite is someone who has a tough time with self-control, or who struggles with various forms of sin: pride, lust, self-righteousness, greed, substance abuse, etc.

Many of us confuse hypocrisy with disobedience. Hypothetically speaking, if I tell people that I am a Christian, but I have a problem with anger, I am not being a hypocrite. I am failing to live up to the perceived "Christian Standard" for one, but mostly I am just not living as Jesus wants me to live. I believe that treating people harshly is wrong, and it isn't what God wants...but, I struggle to live it out. It's only hypocrisy if I pretend to believe in Christ and what he's for, but don't really believe it in my heart.

Followers of Christ really do have a tough time living up to the “standards” that non-believers have set for them. Generally speaking, people who are not Christians expect that those who profess their faith in Jesus Christ will always be (or at least act) perfect. Sadly, a lot of these people are looking for Christians to make a mistake in order to harshly and unfairly criticize Christianity.

As Christians, we believe that lying is wrong. We believe being unfaithful to our spouse is wrong. We believe hurting people physically and emotionally is wrong. Yet, each and every day Christians do these things – and worse. We fail, we fall, we flounder. We make poor decisions and critical errors in judgment. But, are we hypocrites? Or, are we simply human?

This whole idea of acting like you believe something you really don't - true hypocrisy - is something Jesus strongly opposed. It angered him, because he saw the damage that the Pharisees were doing by setting unrighteous, self-righteous examples for the people they "led." But, Jesus saw right through the charade.

In Matthew 12, Jesus confronts the religious leaders of the day, and makes it clear to them that their actions and words do not line up with their beliefs. What they profess isn't matching up with the attitude of their hearts.

Then Jesus went over to their synagogue, where he noticed a man with a deformed hand. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Does the law permit a person to work by healing on the Sabbath?” (They were hoping he would say yes, so they could bring charges against him.)
And he answered, “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath.”

Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored, just like the other one! Then the Pharisees called a meeting to plot how to kill Jesus. Matthew 12:9-14 (NLT)

If our heart is in the right place - following after the Lord - then He will change us from the inside out. Our actions will begin to line up with what we believe. And, the perceptions of others who don't know Christ yet will begin to change.

Until then, we'll be classified by millions of people as hypocrites - but only if we choose not to love as Jesus did - selflessly, and with eternity in mind.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011



If you were born in the United States, this exclamation describes your arrival. You hit the jackpot. Of all the places you could have been born - Sudan, Mexico, Cuba, Iraq - you were fortunate enough to be a U.S. Citizen. The freedoms and opportunities available to you (compared to the rest of the world) are staggering. There's also that thing called capitalism. It allows you and me to make money doing virtually anything we want to do.

And, guess what. You're rich. I'm rich. Even if we don't FEEL rich, we have more than 95% of people in the world.

But, while you and I are blessed to live here in the U.S.A., God didn't put us right here just for our comfort and personal well-being. That shouldn't come as a surprise, especially when you take into account the person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, "Give, and it will be given to you." He didn't say, "Hoard, and it will be given to you." He told us to give. Why? Well, Jesus (being God), knows what's best for us. So, this is no exception.

As Alcorn writes, "The more you give, the more comes back to you, because God is the greatest giver in the universe, and He won't let you outgive Him."

Has there ever been someone who gave sacrificially to God who has regretted it? I doubt it. In fact, one of the primary regrets people have in their old age is that they wished they had given more generously.

A guy in my Bible study shared with me recently that just a couple years ago, his thriving business took a huge hit with the recession. At one point, he had 25-30 employees working for him. He said it got down to just him. And, even that wasn't looking too good.

He said in the midst of this struggle, he told his wife that they were really hurting for money. They needed God to come through. So, he wrote a check to the church for that week, and handed it to his wife. His wife's eyes opened as wide as saucers. "I thought you said we needed money," she said. "So, why did you write the check for more than we normally do?"

He replied, "God knows we need it. The more we give to Him, the more He's going to give it back to us. If we need more money, we've got to give Him more."

That blew me away. Who, in their "right mind" is going to give away more when their world is caving in on them? But, who ever said God wants us to be "right-minded"?

So, all of this leads us to Randy Alcorn's Treasure Principle Key #6: God prospers me, not to raise my standard of living, but to raise my standard of giving.

In those moments when you realize you have more than you need, ask yourself the question: "Why?"

It's not necessarily to buy that new car, gadget, toy, or vacation. Many times, He fills your cup to overflowing so you can pass along a blessing to someone else.

You see, it's rare that God sends a divine gift of cash to your mailbox by snapping His fingers. He won't wrinkle His nose or blink a new car or even a bag of groceries to your home. No, God uses people to do His work. I'm not sure why He chose to do things that way, but He did.

And, chances are, He wants to use you. You have something to offer that no one else does. You have unique relationships, and you have opportunities to help others. Others who are counting on God to come through. And, God will come through. But He wants to use you to make it happen!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Stuff's Got a Hold of Us

OK. We're two-thirds of the way through Alcorn's keys to the Treasure Principle. Last time, we talked about living for the line (eternity) rather than the dot (the here and now). Easier said than done, I know.

The reason it's easier said than done is quite simple: we have a condition Alcorn calls "possession obsession." We are overly concerned with acquiring nice things - things that make us feel good.

As Alcorn points out, there's a PBS television program entitled Affluenza that delves into the problem of the "modern-day plague of materialism." Here are a few shocking stats this program unveils:
  • The average American shops six hours per week, while only spending 40 minutes playing with his children.
  • By age 20, we have seen one million commercials (perhaps fewer now with DVR)
  • Recently, more Americans declared bankruptcy than graduated from college.
  • In more than 90 percent of divorce cases, money plays a prominent role.
The TV program didn't argue against materialism on a moral basis. Instead, the program showed that having greater wealth didn't make people happier. In fact, it made them more miserable. Some of the wealthiest people in the 19th and 20th centuries all agreed that more money and prominence actually had a negative effect on them - John D. Rockefeller, W.H. Vanderbilt, Henry Ford, John Jacob Astor, Andrew Carnegie.

Most people (myself included) go overboard to protect their possessions. It takes a lot of mental and physical energy to maintain a possession's beauty. But, Randy Pausch didn't think that way. The late professor at Carnegie-Mellon University, in his famous "Last Lecture," talked about the time he purchased a brand new convertible, and drove it to his sister's house. Randy didn't have children at the time, but he had a nine year old niece and a seven year old nephew.

Before he took them for a ride in his brand new sports car, the mom warned the kids, "Be careful in Uncle Randy's new car. Wipe your feet before you get in. Don't mess anything up. Don't get it dirty."

But, Randy Pausch had something else in mind. "While my sister was outlining the rules, I slowly and deliberately opened a can of soda, turned it over, and poured it over the cloth seats in the back of the convertible. My message: people are more important than things. A car, even a pristine new car like my convertible, was just a thing."

Wow. I'm not there yet, but I hope to be someday.

So, how do I remove the cloak of materialism? How can I be less concerned with accumulating more stuff?

This brings us to Treasure Principle Key #5: Giving is the only antidote to materialism.

Says Alcorn, "As long as I still have something, I believe I own it. But, when I give it away, I relinquish control, power, and prestige...Giving breaks me free from the gravitational hold of money and possessions."

Perhaps C.S. Lewis summed it up best: "We are far too easily pleased."

Don't settle. Give - and give some more. And, see what true joy is really all about.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Dots and Lines

How long will you live on this earth? 70 years? Maybe 80? The people who live the longest on this planet may make it to 100. Sounds like a long time, doesn't it?

Consider that up until Noah, men routinely lived into their 900's. Adam - THE Adam - the first man God created, lived until he was 930. He was fathering children in his 100's. If that sounds astounding, you may keel over when you hear that Noah was becoming a proud papa in his 500's. Whoa. As far as we know, Methuselah holds the honor of being the oldest man at 969.

But, even if you live a Methuselah-esque life of almost a thousand years, what is that in the span of eternity? God has been forever. I know, impossible to fathom. But, that's a long time. And, He will be forever. And, so will we.

Randy Alcorn proposed this exercise to help illustrate Treasure Principle Key #4: Get a pencil and a piece of paper. On the paper, make a dot. From the dot, draw a line extending out to the right. Draw an arrow on the end of the line. The dot - no matter how large or small - represents your life on earth. The line represents eternity.

Alcorn says, "Right now, we're living in the dot. But, what are we living for? The shortsighted person lives for the dot. The person with perspective lives for the line."

Treasure Principle Key #4 - I shall live, not for the dot, but for the line.

In my last post, I mentioned that virtually all stuff ultimately winds up in a yard sale or junk heap. The person who lives for the dot spends his or her time accumulating things that wind up in the trash. The person living for the line is accumulating eternal wealth in heaven.

As Alcorn states, "Giving is living for the line."

We know we cannot take it with us. So, we are faced with a tough decision: spend it now for temporary satisfaction, or invest it in the Kingdom by giving, and reaping eternal rewards.

The choice is yours: live for the dot, or live for the line.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Are You an Alien? I Am.

Let's continue our journey through Randy Alcorn's great book entitled The Treasure Principle.

We've already talked about the first two "keys" to the Treasure Principle, but let's quickly recap:

Key #1 - God owns everything. I am just His money manager.
Key #2 - My heart always goes where I put God's money.

That brings us to the third "key." This one is equally profound, and also explains why we often hoard our possessions rather than sharing or giving them away.

Treasure Principle Key #3 - Heaven, not earth, is my home.

Well, not yet. But, one day.

Some of you may ask, "How can a place I've never been be my home?" Great question.

The thing is, we were made for heaven. We, as a species, have adapted well to living on this earth. But, God had heaven in mind when He created you. Read the following scriptures, and see if you can grasp this concept:

In the "Hall of Faith," Hebrews 11 speaks to the incredible faith that many of the stalwarts of the Old Testament (Moses, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob) had while they were living here:

All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. (NLT)

Consider Paul's words to the men and women at Caesarea Philippi:
20 But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. (Philippians 3:20 NLT)

Reading the Bible, we should understand that this world is not our ultimate destination. We're only here for a little while. So, why do we behave as though that isn't the case?

As Alcorn so aptly points out in his book, "Where we choose to store our treasures depends largely on where we think our home is."

Alcorn uses a simple, yet powerful illustration to reinforce this notion. Suppose you are going on a three-month business trip overseas. You reside in America, but you will spend the next several weeks in Europe, living in a hotel. You are told that you cannot bring anything back home with you on the airplane. You can, however, mail your paychecks back home.

Would you choose to extravagantly furnish your hotel or apartment in Europe? Would you spend tons of money on the finest linens? No. Why not? Because you are only living there temporarily. You would be wasting a lot of money because you couldn't take it with you.

Ever been to a yard sale? Estate sale? Flea market? Junkyard? Ever notice anything? At some point in time, someone thought these items were valuable - at least valuable enough to pay money for them. Computers, VCRs, TVs, treadmills, cell phones, furniture, gadgets, toys, you name it. But, where do they all wind up? In the junk pile.

We are blessed in the fact that God gives us things to enjoy. We have lots of entertainment. Great restaurants. Beautiful homes. Sleek automobiles. And, I believe God is OK with us getting pleasure out of these things. But, not at the expense of losing yourself and your vision of eternity.

Remember, those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ don't belong here. We're just here for a little while, then God will take us to the place we were designed to be.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Heart Follows Head

It's romantic to say, "I'll follow my heart." But, if we're honest, it rarely, if ever happens that way.

Generally speaking, our hearts follow the decisions that our minds make. This is particularly true when it comes to money.

And, this truth brings us to Randy Alcorn's Treasure Principle Key #2: My heart always goes where I put God's money.

We've already established that God owns everything - including money. So, we're past debating that (Well, I am. I cannot speak for you). Now, Alcorn is stating that our hearts will naturally be inclined to follow after our money.

Think about it. All a person has to do is look at your checkbook register, or your collection of receipts, to find out where your true interests and passions lie. We spend money on the things that matter most to us.

If you're smart, you have money in mutual funds for your 401(k). While you likely will not touch that money until you're in your 60's, you are very interested to see how the funds are performing. Or, if you were to go to a broker and purchase some shares of Berkshire-Hathaway stock, you'd be scanning the ticker constantly to see if your investment is paying off (of course, my next question would be, "How in the heck did you come up with $123,000 for ONE share of that stock?!?!).

For my family, we invest in a few things. First, we invest in God's Kingdom by tithing and giving offerings over and above the tithe (a tithe is ten percent of our gross annual income). We give this gift to God, not only because He asks us to, but also because He guarantees a blessing will come along with it. We also support the University of Georgia - both Athletically and Academically - through annual gifts. We also support friends who go on mission trips. And, perhaps to a fault, we spend a healthy percentage on vacations with our kids.

So, there it is. If you look at our bank accounts, you'd see the same thing - we give to God, to the Dawgs, and to making great memories with our kids. Plus, we eat out a bunch, and I coach baseball, so we have to buy all kinds of sports equipment. But, for the most part, these are our investments.

Which also means, these are the places you'll find our hearts.

Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be."

Where is YOUR treasure? And, where is your heart? You'll likely find them in the same place.

Monday, January 24, 2011

First Things First

I've been reading The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn. Essentially, the book is a simple, straightforward guide to "unlocking the secret to joyful giving."

I'm not quite halfway through the book, but I have to admit that I am really enjoying it. Alcorn explains things in such a way that Biblical truths do not come across as "high and mighty" or "holier than thou." He doesn't lay a guilt trip on the reader who doesn't give. Instead, he explains not only why we should give, but also the many benefits that go along with it.

But, first things are first. Before we ever think about GIVING, we must recognize who is the one true owner of all the "stuff" in the world.

Treasure Principle Key #1 - God owns everything. I am His money manager.

God created everything. By everything, I mean EVERY thing. He loved us so much that He even created a bunch of stuff to give us pleasure. But, we must be responsible stewards of the stuff He's allowed us to use during our time here on earth.

King David agreed. When he was leading the mother of all stewardship campaigns for the Temple that his son, Solomon, would ultimately build, he was overwhelmed with God's love. He expressed gratitude to God for allowing him to be just a small part of His overall plan:

11 Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. 12 Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.
13 “O our God, we thank you and praise your glorious name! 14 But who am I, and who are my people, that we could give anything to you? Everything we have has come from you, and we give you only what you first gave us! 15 We are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace.
16 “O Lord our God, even this material we have gathered to build a Temple to honor your holy name comes from you! It all belongs to you! 17 I know, my God, that you examine our hearts and rejoice when you find integrity there. You know I have done all this with good motives, and I have watched your people offer their gifts willingly and joyously. (1 Chronicles 29:11-17 NLT)

So, before we spend, save, or squander, let's make sure we understand that it all belongs to God. That car. That house. That iPhone. That iPad. That chair. That laptop. That child. That spouse. All of it. Then, thank Him for allowing you to enjoy these things, if even for just a short while.

Friday, January 21, 2011


I don't know why I expect that everything is going to come up roses. I'm not sure why I believe things are supposed to go my way every time. I cannot understand how it came to be that I think I should be immune to adversity.

But, I must. Because when these things happen, I don't like it too much. I often get defensive, and like any great lawyer, I begin to build my case. I claw, scrape, analyze, research - do everything I feel I need to in order to "win" my argument.

One of the things that helps me get through trials is a deep breath, followed by a slow exhale. I've found that I've been doing this quite a bit lately.

The last few months have been perhaps the most emotionally and intellectually draining time in my life. But, as John Ortberg (my favorite Christian author) points out, these taxing moments and difficult times not only show us what we're made of, they are also the times when God is trying to grow us on the inside.

In the midst of the battle, it's tough to see that God is doing great work. Even if I am aware that He's at work, and that He is preparing me for something fantastic, it usually not much consolation. Typically, that is because I'm focused on the junk I'm dealing with rather than any potential positive outcome beyond the present moment.

Jesus told his disciples, "In this world you will have trouble. But, take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33 NIV)

And, no matter how many conversations I have, how much I analyze, research, debate, or put up defenses, the ONLY thing that can truly bring me peace is knowing in my heart that Jesus has already won the one true battle that matters most.