Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Time to Reflect

In the holiday season I enjoy the opportunity for reflection.  At the year’s end life can be busy, but I like to make time to take a deep breath and think.

It helps me to take  few steps back and look at my life.  I see how my children have grown, I look at the impact my life is having on the world, I see the person I am becoming.  I can see my life more as a story, and I feel less overwhelmed by the moment.

I keep a journal, and have for over 20 years.  My collection of journals is the story of my life.  I write about my struggles, successes, fears, joys, insights.  I often write my prayers and record lessons God is teaching me.  As God shows me who I am, I try to capture that on paper.

As with any story, there are different versions of my life story.  First there is my story, as recorded in my journals and retold by me.  I’m the main character, and it’s all about me.

Then there is the story of history.  This will be the way I am remembered by the world, after I die.  I don’t expect to make it into the history books—after all, very few people do.  For most of us, we are remembered by only a generation or two, before we become mere mentions on tax records and tombstones.

Finally there is the real story, the story told by God.  We will never see the real story on this earth.  Before eternity we will never know entirely how our lives have impacted others.  We’ll never know what a difference we have made in the kingdom of God.  We’ll never know how our sins and virtues have been used by God in his ultimate story.

Because God is the ultimate Author, I am part of his story.  When I forget about my role in God’s story, I get self centered, believing that life is all about me.  Rather than becoming lost in God’s story, I get lost in my story.  And I get more lost.

Of all my thousands of journal entries over the years, most have never been read again.  I put the words to paper, crystallizing my thoughts and processing my experiences, but I miss out on the big picture.  I need to  go back and see who I was years ago.  That will help me see where God is taking me on this journey.

So, here’s some advice I need to take.
Take time to look back and make sense of your life.  See what God is up to.  The path of my life is leading somewhere, and the trail behind me helps me know where I'm going.  If I never take time to evaluate, I won’t understand the big picture of my life.  I won’t know how I fit into God’s big story.

Don’t get overwhelmed by the moment.  When I do look back on my life, I remember feeling worried and tense many times.  From the perspective of today, I realize that I could have really chilled out—it was going to work out fine.  But I want that kind of confidence in the moment, as I live my life.  I know Jesus works things out.  By putting my trust in him, I can face life with joy, peace and certainty that he walks with me.  I need to train my brain to take the long term look, and realize that today is another chapter in my story.  He is writing it, and I can trust him.

Don’t be a boring character.  Philosopher N. D. Wilson suggests that if we read the story of our lives, we would think that our characters were boring.  I want to take risks, try new things, get into difficulties, and come out on top.  It is much easier to fit in, blend in and not make waves.  But what fun is that?  Will that really advance God’s story?

I believe that the only story which really matters is God’s story.  We don’t know who the truly important characters of history are.  Today we can see whose names are in the history books, written from man’s perspective.  But when we enter eternity, I believe we will all be surprised to discover what kind of life really mattered to God.  My guess is that many of the big names in the history books will pale in comparison to the quiet, daring lives of disciples who made a big splash in eternity.  That’s the kind of life I want to live. I need to think about it and live it.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Burning Issue

I have prayed today with two pastors who have had fires in their church buildings.  The first church building was burned to the ground.  The second had a broken window and smoke damage.

Jesus will bring redemption out of these losses.  God's people will stand together.  Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt. 

Thank God for our fire fighters.  Let us pray for Jesus to point people to himself, even through these difficult days.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

5 Ways to Make a Difference

Be different.  Positive changes inside of us translate into better attitudes and more aggressive kindness.

Get involved.  You already know that job that somebody needs to do.  Be the one to step up.

Speak up. You have a better idea.  Share it with kindness and humility.

Show up.  You can’t do everything, but you can do some things.  Support the events and efforts that resonate with you.

Pray.  Beg God to intervene.  Real change is God’s work.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Six Ways to Build Community

I believe there is no greater feeling of wholeness than the feeling of belonging.  We can truly thrive when we find a community in which we can be ourselves and know that we will be loved. 

Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree provides a metaphor for us.  Linus saw Charlie Brown’s bent-over Christmas tree and realized that all it needed was a little love.  With Linus’s blanket around it, the tree had the support it needed to stand up straight.  With the help of friends, the tree would become beautiful.  In one way or another, we are all broken and straining at life.  The community of Christian faith is designed to help us overcome the hardships and hurts, so that we can thrive.

Imagine the fellowship where people are truly glad to see you, where you can let down your guard, where you can truly be yourself and find yourself.  Imagine a group of people who have your back, but will get in your face and tell you the hard things you need to hear.  This is what the Lord wants for his church, his body.  We all work together, each person fulfilling his or her unique role, and we build up one another in the process.  We give special love to the parts of the body that need more attention.

Sometimes we are the sad little tree.  Sometimes we are part of the encouraging crowd, helping  a brother or sister become what God intends.

Surely everyone would like to be part of such a community.  But such communities are far too rare.  Of course our imperfections sabotage meaningful, constructive relationships. People are selfish, proud, and greedy.  Our sinful nature stands in the way of creating and maintaining this kind of fellowship.  We need divine assistance.

As believers live in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can work for genuine connectedness with our friends.  It takes the work of God himself to achieve true Christian fellowship.  We cannot do it in our own power.  The foundation of real fellowship among believers, then, is fellowship with God, through prayer and the scriptures.

So, if we really want deeper, stronger community, what can we do?

1.      Forgive

There would be no spiritual life for anyone without forgiveness.  It is the foundation of our relationship with God.  Only through the death and resurrection of Christ can we live.  We must continually receive the forgiveness of God, and freely offer forgiveness to those who sin against us.  Love covers a multitude of sins.

Forgiving has to be a regular habit for us.

2.      Work hard to be real.

God constantly reveals to us our identity in Christ.  He reminds us of our sinless perfection purchased for us on the cross.  He also shows us our unique character as his special workmanship (Eph. 2:10).  God wants us to become more and more what he created us to be.

We need to stop pretending.  Typically we want people to think we are better than we are.  Sadly, if people come to like us when we pretend, then they develop a bond with a fake person.  Even if we win (getting people to like us), we lose because we cannot be authentic. 

In community, our friends can help us recognize those things that inspire us, encourage us and intrigue us.  They affirm us as we operate out of our strengths.  They help us discover our true selves. 

3.      Communicate with each other on the basis of truth.

We need to speak the truth in love, even when it is difficult.  When I’m acting like a jerk, I need loving people in my life to correct me.  Similarly, when I see a friend making poor choices, I need the courage to speak up. 

A friend recently pulled me aside to ask me about something I said.  He had overheard me speaking of a mutual friend who was not present, and it sounded like I was being critical.  I admired his courage for addressing me privately, sharing his concern.  It turned out that my statements had not been critical, but our friendship deepened because he was willing to confront me.

4.      Commit to work things out.

When  we are truly committed to biblical community, then we have the freedom to speak the truth in love, knowing that the other party will listen and work for reconciliation. 

Too often we walk away from problems rather than dealing with them.  The difficult conversations never happen, and relationships suffer.  Usually both parties miss the opportunity to grow, and fellowship becomes more and more shallow. 

5.      Let people help you.

I find that most people are very willing to help others, but balk at receiving help.  We cannot give assistance if no one will receive it.  So, receiving help is a vital part of building community.  It develops our sense of connection and allows us to share in each others’ stories.  It makes life more fun when we bear each others’ burdens. 

A friend recently turned down my wife’s and my offer to help her move into a new apartment.  On the day after her move, we happened to have a conversation about the value of giving and receiving help.  Tired and sore from the heavy lifting, she admitted that she probably could have used a few extra hands.  More importantly, she saw the value of receiving help in building a spirit of fellowship.

6.      Love others when they are hard to love.

We all go through times of discouragement and confusion.  Often we can’t think clearly and make poor choices.  During these times, we really need each other.  We need others to help us interpret reality and understand our circumstances.  We may become angry or withdrawn.  Real friends stick with us in such times, help us laugh, and remind us that we have what it takes to persevere.

Real community is very countercultural.  We rarely see it in our world today.  It’s messy.  Our feelings get hurt.  We help when it’s not convenient.  We become vulnerable.  Our secrets come out.  We get to be real.  We don’t have to hide.  We have nothing to hide.  We become what God intends us to be.  We grow more in the image of Christ.  We experience genuine sorrows and joys.  We live life on a deeper level.

God knows that we need each other.  And he knows that we need his help to make it work.  It’s tough, painful work to develop true community.  But in this community, we can truly live!

Friday, October 19, 2012

You Can't Float Upstream

You never know what you are going to get when a dozen men take off for a weekend together in the name of Jesus.  Especially if their wives load the vehicles with gourmet meals, plus caffeine and sugar.

That’s what our men did last weekend.  We drove an hour, crossing the state line into Virginia, and spent the weekend at Fairy Stone State Park.  Obviously a real man’s hang out.  This group has roughed it before, but this time we had the palatial park lodge building, complete with actual beds, a full kitchen, gas logs, and three showers.  Just outside the front door sat the all important campfire circle.

The theme for our weekend was, “I can.  I Will.  I MUST!”  As we promoted the event, the slogan just sounded gimmicky to me.  But two men in our church, Keith Street and Guy Andrews, gathered us around the fire and helped us dive into the scriptures and come out as changed men.

We discovered that it is easy for us to believe in each other.  We see each others’ strengths, potential, and opportunities.  We know that these men have what it takes.  Naturally we can say with confidence, “You can do it!”  But we all need to learn that, “I can.”  I have what it takes.  We learned that believing in one another inspires us to believe in ourselves.  In Christ we can accomplish everything God calls us to do.  But we need the support, the encouragement, the help from our brothers.  One man said, “I never again have to do anything solo.”  We learned that I can, but we learned that we need each other in the process. 

Esau failed to value his birthright (Genesis 25:29-34) partly because he was alone.  Where were his hunting partners?  They could have warned Esau against the foolish bargain.  Why were the two twins apparent enemies?  They were living in isolation, not community.  Their stories would have been entirely different if they had loved and supported one another.  Through community, we realize that we really can do what God has equipped us to do.  It takes faith to believe that God can use us to accomplish big things.

Learning to say I can energizes us with the possibilities.  For some, that energy of imagining captivates our minds, and we get stuck there.  I can becomes I could if would.  Ever since Adam watched the serpent deceive his wife, men have tended toward passivity.  We sit back and let life happen to us.  Sinful human nature makes it real easy.

But we have to move beyond the possibilities of I can to the determination of I will.  When we believe that we have what it takes, we have the courage to step up and make something happen.  We make commitments to ourselves, and ask our brothers to hold us accountable. 

We invoked the wisdom of Yoda on this.  One man around the fire challenged a teenager to try to pick up a chair.  The teen cooperatively stood and picked up his empty chair.  “No,” the man said, “You picked it up.  I said try to pick it up, not pick it up.”  Suddenly Yoda’s words made sense to me.  “Either do or do not.  There is no ‘try.’”

God calls us to be men of action.  He wants us to swim upstream, to go against the flow, to do the difficult things.  Our retreat leader reminded us that you can’t float upstream.  It takes effort, will, action, and engagement to achieve anything valuable.  Many of us have been floating, and only dreaming of going upstream.  This was our wake up call.  The opposite of passive is active.  We are called to action.

Finally we tackled I MUST!  Once we believe we can, and take action, God reveals to us our calling.  “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do”  (Ephesians 2:10).  Once we are moved to action, we can pursue those good works, and follow God’s leadership into his purpose for our lives.

Our men are different now.  A good different.  We email and call each other more.  We pray together more.  We ask about the things that matter more.  We work less on hiding and more on connecting.  We are leading better in our families.  We are experiencing the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.  It’s only been five days, but by God’s grace we will never go back to passivity.

I would say that my life was changed by a slogan.  But really my life is changed by the Spirit of God, and he does his work as I share my life with friends. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Adrenaline Check

Got adrenaline?  Of course you do.  We all do.  It’s part of the human condition.  We get in stressful situations (take a deep breath), and the “fight or flight” mode kicks in. 

So, where does your adrenaline come from?  Broadly speaking, it comes from fear or adventure.  Consider Peter’s body chemistry when he saw Jesus walking on the water.  (Matthew 14:22-33)  Like the other disciples, he probably was afraid of this mysterious figure approaching in the dark, on the water, in the wind.  A surge of adrenaline.

When the shadowy figure speaks, Peter suspects it really is Jesus.  “Lord, if it’s you,” he calls out, “tell me to come to you on the water.”  The adrenaline is still pumping, but Peter is changing his perspective.  Now he is operating out of adventure, rather than fear.  He chooses to trust Jesus.

He steps on the lake, walking to the Lord.  What a rush!  He is doing the miraculous, just like Jesus!  But with another look at the wind and waves, he has another thought.  Uh-oh.  His reality check reminds him of … reality.  This is impossible.  Duh.

He has a change of heart, a harmful one.  He goes from fight to flight.  He goes from adventure to fear.  He panics. 

Nothing about his situation changes.  Only his interpretation of his situation changes.  He begins to sink.

So, where does your adrenaline come from?  Is the source a threat or an exciting opportunity?  It depends on how you see it.  And how you see it determines your success. 

When we see with eyes of faith, we see the real reality.  When we trust Jesus, the threats become opportunities.  That adrenaline feels good.  It empowers us to live by faith, trusting Jesus, doing the miraculous.

And Jesus is there to take our hands whenever we start to sink.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

My Top Ten Bold Moves

Here are the Top Ten boldest things I’ve ever done (that I can think of right now).

10.  Dash through the Rome airport, looking for my family who were still outside, where I should have been (bold and stupid)

9.  Speak with (I hope) some authority to a roomful of home schooling parents

8.  Sign up for and compete in two triathlons

7.  Volunteer to go on a mission trip to Brazil as a college student

6.  Take over operations of my family farm

5.  Shop at the Coronation Market in Kingston, Jamaica

4.  Respond productively to criticism

3.  Witness to people in Irish Pen ghetto in Spanish Town, Jamaica

2.  Quit a steady job to start a church

1.     Lay everything in my life “on the table” before Jesus
The older I get, the bolder I get.  At least that's how I want to live.  I'll be adding a lot of items to my list, if I have truly done the #1 bold move. 
What's on your list?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Triathlon 2

Having done two triathlons now, I feel like a genuine triathlete.  This race takes place at Belews Lake, not far from my home.  It’s a sprint event—like I could actually sprint through the thing.  It begins with a 750 meter swim. That’s almost half a mile.  Then the bike course takes you on a 14.5 mile journey along lovely rural Stokesdale roads, before a quick 5k run at the end.  Everything begins uphill, except for the swim.  Everything ends downhill, except for the swim, which concludes uphill on the algae-slick boat ramp, threatening embarrassment and race-ending injury.

So that’s the course. 

Now, last year was a fiasco, embarrassing even for a wannabe.  My classification was “Master Clydesdale.”  That sounded really cool.  But my time wasn’t so hot.  I finished the race with the second slowest time of the entire field.  The race has a timed start, meaning that there is no mass of humanity splashing and churning at the start, fighting for breath and life.  No, this kinder, gentler start has two athletes diving in every 15 seconds.  The staggered start means that the first one across the finish line is not necessarily the winner.  Similarly, the last one across the line may not be the real loser.  Well, in 2011, they were closing down the course while I was still “running.”  I provided a sense of relief to the staff, as I crossed the finish line, and I enjoyed a significant sense of accomplishment.  There were a few of runners behind me, so I had hopes that my race time might place me in respectable position.

Mercifully, I did not know how poorly I compared until I saw the results later, on line.  I quickly remembered that I had an excuse—my bicycle.  This mountain bike was never intended to speed along lovely rural roads.  It was made for jumping roots and puddles.  The racing bike I had borrowed developed a flat tire about 12 hours before the race; so I was stuck with my fat-tired, 20 pound two-wheeler.

And there was another issue—I had not trained well enough.  I discovered this problem while panting for breath, barely 3 minutes into the event, staying afloat with the elementary backstroke.  The spotters in kayaks leaned over, ready to save me from drowning, asking me if I were OK.  I survived all 750 meters with no help, but I was a whipped pup with 17.7 miles to go.  On the next leg people passed me like a kid on a trike.  One woman expressed sympathy for me and my equipment.  When it was time to run, I ended up walking a whole lot.  But I did cross the finish line, hearing my name and age announced to the few remaining spectators.  Time:  2:16:46.

So, the stage was set for my heroic attempt this year.  I have been doing more training, especially cardio workouts, more strength training, and more serious swimming.  I also bought a refurbished road bike, just for the occasion. 

I signed up as a novice (no more Master Clydesdale), so my start time was near the end.  That way I could do most of the passing for a change, a clever tactic recommended by my runner friend Ed.  I aired up my tires to 110 pounds of pressure.  I got all my gear ready for my transitions.

Finishing the swim uphill, past the algae.  Photo by Sarah Bailey
At the bike racks next to me was another 50-year-old doing his first triathlon.  I gave him a few pointers, as if I were a seasoned pro.  He appreciated it so much that he beat me in the race—but only by a couple of minutes.  I smoked him in the swim, and then he passed me at mile 1 of the 5k.  That’s when I slowed down to a walk for a few hundred yards.  I never did catch up with him.

As I gave up hope of passing him, I remembered that I really wanted to finish under two hours.  I imagined the devastation of missing that goal by a minute or two.  With no watch to guide me, I decided to push as hard as I could, running downhill for that last half mile.

The announcer called out my name, age and hometown as I ran across the finish line.  The event clock there told me that I had come in well below two hours.  I felt good, in a sweaty, worn out way.  My wife and daughter greeted me and brought me some water.  I found my new triathlon friend and congratulated him in an accusing sort of way.

I finished at 1:53:49.  Yes!

I’m not real sure why I ran this race.  But I do know that some children around the world will benefit.  I got a few sponsors to donate to World Vision, to help with education, to buy chickens, and to support orphans.

Yep.  It was worth it.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Being Bold

This Sunday we begin a new series, "Be Bold!" 

So often our lives are just...vanilla.  We don't really expect much -- from God, from life, from work, from family, from ourselves.  And we usually get what we expect.

In Acts we see some bold disciples who really expected God to do what he said.  They believed that Jesus is the Way.  They knew that all the world needed to hear.  They wanted to share the good news everywhere they went.  For them, life was all about Jesus.

So, they were bold in their prayer, generosity, witness, speech, travel and obedience.

I'm ready to be bold!

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Slow Start to Fasting

Yesterday in our worship celebration a bunch of people indicated that they would commit to fast and pray this week for our church and ministry.

Because we may be unaccustomed fasting, I thought that a few tips might help.  I fast occasionally, often without a whole lot of preparation, but not usually more than 24 hours. 

So, with my amateur experience, here's what I have found.  It is important to keep the purpose of the fast in mind.  Fasting is a way of "praying with your body."  The growling stomach is a quick reminder that you are seeking the face of God.  Depriving yourself of food is a way of denying yourself, as in, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me."  (Luke 9:23)  Fasting is only one form of self denial.

Sometimes I will fast as I seek wisdom about a particular issue, like parenting, or specific direction for our church.  Sometimes I will fast just as a way of turning my heart more to God and listening to him.

The 24 hour fast is fairly easy to schedule.  If you miss two consecutive meals, assuming that you eat at regular times daily, you can get a 23 hour fast in a snap.  Adjust your fast-breaking meal by an hour and you have your 24 hours.

I find that it helps to prepare for the fast by praying for God to reveal himself.  Then on your last meal before fasting, it is best to eat a lighter meal.  Ironically, eating a feast before your fast only makes the discipline more uncomfortable.  Now, if discomfort is the way God gets your attention, then maybe you should load up on your last meal.

I also like to get away from distractions.  Most folks have work and family responsibilities, and can't shut themselves off from the world.  But if you can get away from the phone and email, that can really help your focus.

Some people will drink some fruit juice.  Some will flavor their water with a little lemon juice.  I usually just drink water.  Caffeine should be avoided, and it may help to eliminate it a day before your fast begins.  If you don't even drink water, that is called an absolute fast, and should not be done for more than a day or two.

Richard Foster's book, The Celebration of Discipline has excellent tips on fasting.  A lot of my ideas come from him.  I also did a quick Google search and found a helpful blog by David Peach on fasting.

The spiritual disciplines are not a way to coerce God into speaking or helping us.  They are a way of putting our souls in the right posture to hear him and enjoy him.

Prepare for a feast!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Consumer Spirituality

I like finding a deal.  When I buy something, I want to get it on sale, with a coupon or with a discount.  Somehow it feels rewarding to get exactly what I want and pay less than other people.

Maybe I'm a typical American consumer.

Some apply the consumer mentality to spiritual decisions.  We shop for a church to find exactly what we want--the right programs, the right location, the right schedule.  It might be good to consult God in the process, even seek his leadership.

But getting the right product is only part of the shopping process.  You also want to get a good deal.  You don't want to pay any more for the product than you have to.

We want low cost.  Maybe we want low cost discipleship.  We want spiritual growth, but don't want it to cost too much.  Imagine growing in Christ without spending much time, giving much effort, expending much energy.  As consumers, we want discipleship with minimal cost or inconvenience.

The only problem is that Jesus said it doesn't work that way.  Following Christ costs everything.  Maybe he's not looking for smart consumers.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sad Legacy

As news comes out about the Penn State football scandal, it just gets sadder.  The perpetrator has been convicted and is behind bars, but that is no consolation to the people whose lives may have been ruined.

I am especially saddened about head coach Joe Paterno.  He led a football dynasty at Penn State, serving on the coaching staff for 61 years.  He was revered, almost worshipped, by the Penn State faithful.

But his legacy fell apart in 2011.  It turns out that he helped keep the secret that destroyed lives.  The NCAA penalized the University severely for the scandal by, among other penalties, vacating all the team's victories from 1998 to 2011 under Coach Paterno.

The coach apparently served the school's football culture at all costs, hiding anything that might interfere.  I don't believe that Paterno condoned Sandusky's crimes, but he helped to cover them up.

So, Paterno will not be remembered as college football's most winning coach.  He won't be remembered for his football dynasty.  He will be remembered for keeping heinous secrets, for maintaining a football program at the cost of dozens of harmed children.

We build a legacy one day at a time.  But the best legacy is built with integrity.

Monday, July 23, 2012

R-Rated World

In his video, Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl, philosopher and poet N. D. Wilson reminds us that we live in an R-rated world.  As much as we would like to protect ourselves and our children from the cruelties of human existence, our world is violent and unfair.

The world is also full of beauty, joy, pleasure, and happiness.  All around us we see the wonders of creation.  We like to celebrate the good stuff.  And we should.

We don't need to celebrate the bad stuff.  Sometimes evil happens because someone wants attention--any kind of attention.  (At sporting events, the "streakers" used to get a moment of fame, until the TV directors learned to turn the cameras away, minimizing whatever attention the perpetrator might get.)

But without celebrating evil and suffering, we have to acknowledge that it exists.  The shootings in Colorado last Friday were a chilling reminder that evil people are in our midst.  Massacres have happened ever since Abel's brother committed the first murder.  Accounts in ancient history--even in the Bible--are gruesome.  In times of war and times of peace, there have been sickos who delight in violence.

Today we hear about them from all over the world, almost in real time.

There is a spiritual enemy who uses people to destroy lives.  He comes only to steal, kill and destroy.  His weapons are lies and hate.  He whispers lies into the minds of his prey, distorting their thoughts, turning them against God and people.  Whenever I hear about these horrible crimes, I know the devil has been at work.

Jesus came to give life.  This world may be R-rated, but Jesus is the ultimate Director, and this story ultimately shows that he loves this world.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Give it a rest

I recently finished a book called, The Rest of God, by Mark Buchanan.  This is the book I have been looking for since I became a Christian.  It really explains the concept of Sabbath.

Because observing the Sabbath is clearly commanded by God, I believe it is clearly a good idea.  In fact, not observing the Sabbath could be called sin.  Well, it must be called sin, if we believe that God meant what he said.

I remember friends at a Bible college who were prohibited from studying on Sunday.  They could stay up past midnight on Sunday, and study in the wee hours of Monday morning, but they had to wait for the clock to strike 12.  Never mind that the real Sabbath is Saturday.  Never mind that the real sabbath is reckoned from sundown to sundown.  At that college, Sabbath went from midnight to midnight. 

On what authority did they make that rule?  Is that what Jesus has in mind?

And how does Sabbath-keeping avoid the pitfalls of the uptight Pharisees, whom Jesus condemned?  How do we keep the fourth commandment without being legalistic?  If Sabbath is really made for man, then why is it such a burden?

Buchanan makes the case that real Sabbath begins with a change of attitude.  We can be still outwardly, while we are churning inwardly.  What kind of rest is that? 

We need to think about Sabbath like God thinks about Sabbath.  It is not something we have to do.  It is something we get to do.  It is a weekly reminder that our work is never done...and that it's OK. 

I have been more intentional about taking time off, both mentally and physically, but I've got a long ways to go to live out Sabbath as God intends.  At least now I'm making progress.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Author Sidney Sheldon said, "A blank piece of paper is God's way of telling us how hard it is to be God." 

That blank piece of paper, like a brand new document in Microsoft Word, is full of possibilities and potential.  It can be a love letter, a grocery list, a novel, a term paper, a lost puppy flyer, a poem, artwork for the refrigerator, a bill, or a bookmark.

The blank page can take you to the limits of your imagination.  Nothing is impossible in a story.  The author gets to make up all the rules.  Gravity can repel.  Animals can talk.  A planet can have two suns.  A spider bite can convey superhuman powers.

But the student staring at the empty exam page, straining to answer the essay question, knows how daunting it can be to create. 

Creating engages the imagination.  It releases ideas, dreams.  It harnesses an indescribable power. 

God uses imagination as he creates.  He has created us in his image.  He invites to imagine and create as well.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

More to it

One thing I have learned is that there is more to it.  It doesn't matter what "it" is.  Maybe it's the story of a broken marriage or a successful career.  What we see on the outside is only part of it.  There is more to it.

During high school I worked at a drug warehouse in Greensboro.  It was hot, dirty, not very lucrative, and you could never predict exactly when the day would end.  Usually around 5:30, sometimes 6:00. 

During college, I looked for a better summer job.  The perfect job would be a bank teller.  Yes.  Sit in the air conditioning, count money, predictable hours.  What could be better?

I worked hard to get a job, working for Wachovia Bank.  I had it made!

But there's more to it, I found out.  Turns out that tellers have to deal with people -- different people every day.  Happy people, busy people, unreasonable people, angry people, deaf people, broke people, rich people.  And after dealing with all these people, I had to balance my cash drawer.  I had to account for every penny every day.  Turns out, that's a big responsibility.  Turns out, I didn't really like that work after all.

So, I have learned to be patient with people as they do their jobs.  It may look easy, but I know there is more to it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Count it all joy...

Yes, James has a timeless reminder (James 1:2) that we should count it all joy when we encounter various trials.  Sigh.

I am far too slow to learn that.  But I am learning it.  Here are a few reflections on James 1:2-3.

I see that it is really true, that the hard times test and strengthen our faith.  This promise fits well with the one in Romans, that "in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). 

The deeper the struggle, the greater the character development.

Wallowing in my trials never really helps.  If I genuinely trust God, then I can count on him to see me through the hardship, and I can know for certain that I will be better for having been through the wringer.

Trials are never fun, even knowing that they build me up.

Every trial, in my experience, has been worth it.

I hate having the same kinds of trials repeatedly, because I realize that I'm still having to learn the same kinds of lessons.

More trials are coming, but at least I can count it all joy.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


I'm about half finished with Bob Goff's new book, Love Does.  This guy inspires me to let loose, cut loose and do something.  He's full of crazy stories about things he has done and things that happened to him.  He thinks way outside the box, asking simple questions and launching out into "capers."  He meets God on the move, as he embraces the whimsy of life.

I've been following Bob on Twitter for a while, and I've heard him in interviews.  He is a most winsome and engaging person.  Of course I wanted to read his book.

I must confess that I was hoping to read about some mid-life epiphany when he became the whimsical character that he is today.  That would offer some hope for me -- someone who has played it safe far too often, and has taken life far too seriously.

But alas, Bob has always been that way -- as far as I can tell, half way through his book.  He has often fallen on his face, and always dusts himself off, ready for the next caper.

Maybe I've always been that way, too, deep down.  I just need to jump into some capers, and stop taking life so seriously.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Other Side of Leadership

History is the story of leaders.  Civilization remembers events revolving around leadership.   Any list of great leaders includes the malevolent as well as the benevolent, such as, Mohandas Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Adolf Hitler, Margaret Thatcher, Fidel Castro, Mao Zedong, Jesus, Martin Luther, Bono, Joseph Smith, Jim Jones, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Martin Luther King Jr., Julius Caesar, Saint Francis of Assisi, Walt Disney.

Some of these led governments, some led movements.  Their personal qualities and methods are very diverse.  But in all cases, they led ordinary people.   So consider the question from the other side of leadership:  What makes people follow?  Leaders through the ages have found what works.  They have found that there are two external means of motivating people to follow:  scare them or mesmerize them.  Both work remarkably well.  Often leaders will use a combination of the two. 

Fear-Based Leadership
Fear-based leadership prevails throughout history, particularly in totalitarian regimes.  The fear-based leader can use physical or emotional force to achieve compliance.  Perhaps most political leaders through history have fit this category.  This is the simplest kind of leadership.  It suppresses the will of the follower.  It thrives on uniformity.  It says, “I am the leader because I can make you follow.”

On a rare occasion fear-based leadership can be healthy.  Law enforcement officials may use a show of force to calm down a riotous crowd.  Coaches may intimidate their players.  Drill sergeants may threaten their soldiers.  Such leadership can only be healthy in the short run, and for a larger purpose.

Fear-based leadership works.  It often generates a quick response.  It takes very little explanation.  It keeps followers together, at least outwardly. Consider the abusive parent, the manipulative boss, the military dictator.

But at the same time, fear-based leadership only works as long as the leader holds the upper hand.  Only through upheaval can the guard be changed.  Fear does not bring out the best in people, but suppresses their dissent.  Rarely does it persuade anyone.  It is an external form of control.  These leaders can only lead by using people. 

Personality-Based Leadership
Some leaders are blessed with magnetic, charismatic  personalities.  They can persuade and recruit.  They find that people trust them and willingly follow them, for better or for worse.  They bring people together at a deeper level than fear-based leaders.  They unite followers around a common theme or goal.  Many fear-based leaders begin by leading people whom they have mesmerized. 

Personality-based leaders are persuasive and likeable.  They are confident and present their cases well.  They make people glad, but often without all the facts.  People gladly get in line without scrutinizing the claims of the leader.  The crowd includes a plethora of half-committed crowd-followers.  The leader is more interested in control than the mission.  Manipulation masquerades as leadership.  

The personality-based leader identifies himself with the cause.  Without the leader, there is no cause; no other leader can take the reins. 

Intoxicated with the power of a following, this leader often becomes corrupt.  The Jim Jones mass suicide was based on trust of the leader. 

A Better Way:  Mission-Based Leadership
Then there are leaders who inspire people to believe in the cause.  This is mission-based leadership.  The leader taps into convictions and beliefs of the followers and releases them to pursue the cause.  Each follower then becomes an ambassador for the cause.  The power of the movement comes from within each follower. 

The cause is something higher, deeper, more important than the leader.  The leader merely taps into the pre-existing passion of the followers.  He harnesses the power of the masses, as they pursue the mission together.  This breeds not uniformity or conformity, but unity and creativity.

Movements are born under mission-based leadership.  Martin Luther King Jr. inspired the faithful to action.  They believed in their cause, not because of the leader’s authority, but because the leader had a higher authority.  The civil rights movement grew because people fundamentally believed in the cause. 

In a movement, people are persuaded and changed from within.  The change is lasting and has impact upon society and culture.

People can be led externally with fear-based or personality-based leadership.  Or people can be led internally with mission-based leadership.
External leadership is easy, internal leadership is hard.
External leadership is fast, internal leadership slow.
External leadership is a sure thing, internal leadership a risk.
External leadership leaves collateral damage, internal leadership builds up followers.
External leadership creates division, internal leadership creates unity.
External leadership inspires class warfare, internal leadership eliminates it.
Internal leadership can be blessed by God, external leadership can’t.

People follow because they fear the leader, they trust the leader, or they believe in the cause.  Lasting, meaningful change comes from changed hearts, guided by the Holy Spirit.  May our leadership be based on the mission.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Letting Go

Today I am with my wife and daughter for freshman orientation at Campbell University.  The process of letting go has begun. 

Yes, I know that I have been letting go gradually for years.  I am now comfortable with her driving by herself, studying by herself, going to movies with friends.

But this is really bringing it home.  She will probably never really live at home with us again.  Our house will just be a temporary resting place between semesters, a rest stop and a point of reference.

At least I hope that is the case.  I don't want her living with me and Lisa when she's 27. 

There's the tension:  I want her to grow up and move away, but, well, I'm going to miss her.  I feel sorry for the parents who don't like their kids.  They can't wait for them to be gone.  Not me.  I like both my daughters, and like to be with them.  At least I'm not losing both of them at the same time.

Sometimes growing up hurts, even when you are 50.  But it's worth it.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Why Health Care Matters

For years now we have been debating health care.  The U.S. Supreme Court's decision last week brought it back to the headlines.  The debate rages on many levels:  whether the non-compliance fees are taxes, whether the individual mandate is constitutional, what the law will actually cost, who will be affected, how it will play out politically.

But I want to consider some deeper questions. 

Why does the government have such an interest in health care anyway?  I believe the government is interested in control, both economic and political, anywhere the they can find it.  The health care industry is a huge and growing sector of our economy.  I have been driving past Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem for over 30 years, and there is almost always some construction going on.  Health care dollars at work.  So control over the health care industry puts more power in the hands of politicians.  They love power anyway, or they would not have run for office.  Taking over health care only makes sense.

But there is another question:  Why do Americans spend so much money on health care?  If someone in your family needs an expensive treatment to be cured of some dread disease, you will do anything it takes to get the treatment.  There is no limit.  You will raise the needed money, as far as possible, then borrow the rest, whether from banks or health care providers. 

Where people are willing to spend without end, the market sees a growth industry.  So the industry has grown, with layer upon layer of services related to medicine -- doctors, nurses, technicians, hospitals, urgent care clinics, pharmacies, drug companies, health insurance providers, liability insurance providers, auditors to examine billing, hospice services, and the list goes on.

We spend so much on health care because we want to cling to life, no matter what.  We assume that we can manage our health, just as we manage our portfolios.  We are in charge.  We make it happen.  We find the cure.  We do whatever it takes.  We are obsessed with living forever, or at least living comfortably. 

What could be more important than your health?  We would do well to ponder on that.  Maybe, just maybe, there are some things more important than physical health. 

We could all have different lists of "Things more important than physical health," but here are some things on my list:  relationships, character, integrity, posterity, serving others, fulfilling God's purpose for me, loving God, loving people, pursuading people of truth.

When you put it in perspective, you may wonder why health care matters so much to us.  It's time we get our priorities right.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


It's July 4, so of course we have to talk about....bullets.  A lot of bullets were used in the Revolutionary War.  And I am thankful to live in a free country, thankful to be heir of the liberty that our Founders envisioned and fought for.

But I'm not talking about lead bullets today.  I'm talking about points in a blog or article.  This feature nearly always draws my attention.  So, here's my list of random thoughts on bullets.
  • Bullets focus on content, not style.  Why bother to make smooth literary transitions, when you can just shoot a bullet?
  • Bullets are fast and easy.  I can read through a list of bullet points in a breeze.
  • Bullets feed the consumer mentality.  "Give me something to chew on, and give it to me the way I like it."
  • Bullets help you feel good about being in a hurry.  "I read 27 blogs," and by that I mean I read 27 bullet lists.
  • Bullets allow you to compare your knowledge to the author's.  "Man, I could have written that list..."
  • Bullets make the author look like he has organized things to say.
  • Bullets allow you to add another thing to your list, even if you don't have anything else to say.
  • Bullets imply authority, even when the point is empty.  (See point above.)
In spite of all their short comings, I still like bullet lists.  And I'll probably write plenty of bullet lists in the future. 

Bullets alone will not make us free, but maybe bullets with truth and purpose can.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Bold, Daring, Illegal

"Volunteers" at Colonial Williamsburg
As we prepare to celebrate our independence as a nation, it may help us to remember what our founders were doing.  These subjects of the king of England had become so dissatisfied with the king’s policies that they decided to break away from the kingdom, to become independent of it.  The feeling of discontent was so intense and widespread among these colonies that masses would join in the revolt, many putting their lives on the line, as soldiers, spies and sympathizers.

 From our perspective these rebels were brave souls, fighting for freedom.  But in their day, they were law breakers.  They refused to submit to authority, and chose to fight against it.  For many, they recognized an Authority higher than the king, and chose rather to submit to Him.  The logical argument presented in the Declaration of Independence begins with God, the One who gives rights, rights that governments cannot legitimately take away.

The colonists wanted to pass down to their children a land governed with legitimate authority.  If  the colonists refused to take a stand, the abuses would continue and increase.  The government, drunk on its own power, would keep taking more and more freedoms away.  This is a natural progression of all human governments.  So the colonists broke the law of the king to institute “new guards,” who would govern merely to preserve the rights conferred on all humanity by God.

The Framers
The new guards are described in the United States Constitution.  It gives the government limited, enumerated powers.  It provides checks against abuses of authority.  It prevents any one person or group from hijacking the country.  It assumes that power corrupts, and provides specific means of mitigating that corruption.

Government that takes more and more power is government that fits the pattern of history.  It is the kind of government our Framers abhorred and took up arms against.  It is the kind of government they sought to make illegal in America. 

Here’s to freedom!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Lessons on the Lake

For the first time in a couple of years, I put my sailboat in the water today.  It was the perfect day:  good wind, lots of sunshine, and no appointments on the calendar. 

It's hard to take a photo of a sailboat while you're on it.
My boat is a 1975 Sunfish, a small boat with a single sail.  It boasts all the glory you would expect from the '70s:  bright yellow and orange stripes for the sail.  It is comfortable for two adults, if both are willing to keep ducking the boom.  I remember sailing it with four teenagers, and it was a snug fit.

The Sunfish is perfect for the solo sailor--easy to rig, not too heavy, and as maneuverable as a bicycle.  All you need is a little breeze to keep you moving.  The silence on the water breathes peace into my soul.  As I harness the wind to take me away, I can listen to God.  And I have to depend on God, too, for my power.

The wind, I have always believed, is best in the big part of the lake.  Far from the shore, the wind blows straight and strong, not blocked or diverted by the trees.  So, when I set sail from the South Cove at Carolina Marina, I make it my goal to get to the big open water, where I can sail freely.

This is typically a feat in itself, getting to the open water.  First I zigzag through the cove, responding to the constantly shifting breeze, and "coming about" just shy of the boat slips lining the shore.  Out of the cove, I have more room to maneuver.  Still I have to tack, even though my heading changes from west to north.  That's just how the wind blows.

Tiller in right hand, camera in left hand, sheet between my toes
To get to that beckoning big water, I have to make nearly a dozen tacks.  With each zig, I try to move up the lake as much as possible.  I set small goals along the way:  I want to get past that peninsula, then beyond that moored ski boat.  Not every goal is met, but piece by piece I get closer to my destination. 

Eventually I arrive.  I can sail as long and far as I like, not having to mark my progress or zig when I'd rather zag.  I have freedom to do as I like with the strong steady wind, feeling the spray in my face, letting the mast lean as far as I dare while beating into the wind.  I imagine sailing across the Atlantic. 

The smaller goals led me to my destination.  But at the destination, I really had no more goals, other than having fun.  That's what sailing, at least for me, is all about. 

So here's the life application:  small goals in life are essential to get us where we want to go.  But when we get where we want to go, we need to know what to do next.  You want to get all your debts paid off.  That's great--but then what?  You want to get that perfect job or that higher education.  Again, that's great, but remember:  when the goal is reached there needs to be a purpose for getting there.

Running before the wind, heading back to South Cove
Before long, I sail back to the South Cove, now mostly running before the wind, no tacking needed.  It's a much shorter voyage, both in time and distance.

I reached my goal and accomplished what I expected.  I had fun and I got to listen to God.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Connections intrigue me.  I'm always fascinated when I find connections in places I never expected.  Sometimes words have deeper meaning when you discover the connections with other words.  For example, the word "remember" literally means to piece back together; you put the members (of a body) back together and that is re-membering.

There are tons of connections in the Bible, too.  Melchizedek is first mentioned in Genesis 14, then again in Psalm 110.  The author of Hebrews puts it all together for us in chapter 7.  The depth and meaning of this historical character are much richer when we see the connections.

Today, Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, connects the dots in his past which fit him uniquely for his role leading an international benevolence ministry:  He was raised in a poor family, worked his way through college and graduate programs, and becoming a higly-paid CEO.  When he changed his career path to lead the nonprofit, he could speak from personal experience about poverty, hard work, successful business, and personal sacrifice.  It all fits.

Then there are the smaller connections in daily life: 
-- conversations taking place because "coincidence" brings people together;
-- experiences uniquely equipping someone to handle an emergency situation;
-- opportunities opening a door to share God's love through kindness.

When I notice these connections, I marvel at God and his infinitely complex engineering of circumstances.  He effortlessly puts these situations together.

I have a feeling that these situations abound much more than I ever imagined.  I just need to look for them, and expect to see them.  God opens my eyes to spiritual realities, when I let him.  Then I can see him working and, to my delight, I get to work with him.  That's a great connection.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Missed messages

I am beginning to notice what I notice.  Wherever I am -- in the car, in a store, at the church building, at home, in a restaurant -- I hear the small electronic noises.  Ringtones are ubiquitous.  Every object that harnesses electrons seems to beep:  cameras, washing machines, french fry cookers, cash registers, old fashioned telephones, iPads, laptops, alarm systems.

I notice those beeps.  It might be for me.  Maybe it's my phone.

OK, worse case:  If I don't get to my phone quickly enough, it goes to voicemail.  I'll get the message.  The urgency of those beeps has nothing to do with their importance.  But I hear them.  At some level, I must be listening for them.

But there are other things I need to tune in to:  facial expressions, tones of voice, the details of my daughter's day, crickets singing, squirrels talking, the quiet of the early morning.  If I miss those things, they don't go to voicemail.  I may miss the message forever. 

And often those messages are more important.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Venus Transit

I have been looking forward to today's Venus transit since I first heard about it last week.  The geek in me loves this science stuff. 

So this afternoon I wanted to see it live.  Since I don't have any welder's glasses, I planned to watch it with sunlight shining through a hole onto a board.  Theoretically, the image of the sun is projected through the hole onto the board.  This works with a solar eclipse.  Should work with a Venus transit, too.

About 5:45 this afternoon, it was partly cloudy.  Unfortunately, the part with the clouds was blocking the sun.  I waited, not too patiently, for a break in the clouds.  Finally the moment came.  I went outside and used my low-tech watching device.

I looked carefully at the image of the sun projected on my 1 x 8 board.  Just looked like a round spot of sunlight.  I strained to see that tiny speck, making its way across the face of the sun.  I knew what to look for...but I could not find it.

Sometimes spiritual things feel like that to me.  I eagerly anticipate God's intervention.  I prepare to see it.  I wait for the right time.  I work through frustration and work around obstacles.  Then, when I finally expect to see God at work, I can't see it.  I have to believe that God is there, doing something, even though I can't see it.

And so, like the Venus transit, I believe that it is happening, even though I can't see it.  It's called walking by faith, not by sight.  *sigh*  I know there is value in it.  But when I really can see God at work, that's a thrill!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Random Thoughts, nearing Age 50

I’m soon to turn 50 years old, and the hour glass suggests that I may have gathered some wisdom.  These are some lessons that I wish I had learned a whole lot earlier.  I could have saved myself a lot of grief.

Don’t take yourself too seriously.  Lighten up and laugh at yourself.  Most things are not such a big deal.

A thankful heart is a happy heart.  – Madam Blueberry

Assume that other people like you, whether friend or stranger.  Assuming they don’t like you makes you defensive.  Wondering if they like you keeps you probing and focused on yourself.  Besides, if they really don’t like you, that’s their problem—usually.  If you assume that people like you, then you become more likable.

Confidence comes from preparation, says John Maxwell.  The best way to become more confident is to become more prepared.

Everything seems worse in the middle of the night.  I can’t tell you how many times I have worried about something in a restless night, then in the morning wondered, “How could that have bothered me so much?”

When I am worried, it helps me to remind myself that I don’t want to live that way.  I have spent far too much time being torqued out over big things and small things.  Looking back, I realize that I have missed out on the joy of too many occasions.  I don’t want to live that way.  I want to experience the joy every day.

Sabbath is not a luxury.  Life goes much better when I take time to do nothing.  Stillness gives me emotional space, increases my joy, and makes me do a better job at whatever I do.  Even Jesus observed the Sabbath every week.  I gain energy not only from the time of rest, but also from anticipating the time of rest.

I understand now why grownups so often asked me to read small print for them when I was a youth.  It may be annoying to the kid, but it’s even more annoying to the grownup.  And for the presbyopic, digital watches are impossible to reprogram.  The readout shows a constellation of blobs around the digits.  These blobs represent functions and alerts, but I never know what they are.  Even the directions require a magnifying glass to read, and it’s not worth the effort.

I can control my attitude.  It can be done.  It takes work.  I have an enemy who wants to turn me negative all the time.  I let him win far too much.  I have an Advocate who put him in his place.  What I put into my mind makes a big difference.

 Technology is great, except when it isn’t.

It’s not easy to be yourself.  I’ve spent most of my life trying to figure that out.  But life is much more fun when I’m being myself.

 You are never too old to have fun.  Some things need to be done, just because they are fun, and for no other reason.  I think that puts a smile on God’s face.

I have always wanted to write an article of random thoughts.  Now I have, and I did it before turning 50.