A special needs dog: The power of perspective

pic of buzz

“Buzz” also known as “Bumpy.” His eyes alone tell the whole story. This dog is crazy about people and ready to love anyone in his path.

I was visiting some friends recently and as I walked into their home, their dog began barking ferociously.  I immediately froze in my tracks – convinced I was about to be attacked by some large, rabid, starving, trained to kill pit-bull.   Nope.   The dog turned out to be a small Boston Terrier.  Fortunately for me, he was caged.  When I approached the safely contained beast, it went nuts.   This animal spent every ounce of energy trying to get out of that crate to “eat greet me.”   He was briefly released and I left shortly thereafter, grateful that all my limbs were still intact.

A few days later, I returned to the same scenario.  In fact, every time I am in this dog’s presence, he goes stark raving mad.   Initially, I was convinced he wanted to hurt me.  Now, he just wants to play… I think.   Honestly, I’m still cautious in his presence.   “No sudden movements Rod,” I tell myself.   I am never far from the “treats” in case I need a life-saving distraction.

His owner, used to this behavior, recently gave me some helpful advice: “Rod, you have to think of him like a dog with special needs.

I laughed.   A special needs dog??   Is that even possible?

The advice clicked.  Ah, yes.  The dog has special needs alright.  He has a need to maul me.   All dogs like to chew on bones.  This one just wants to chew on mine, all 206 of them.

As I thought about this description, I found myself immediately possessing a bit more understanding.  Instead of being frustrated at the dog’s inability to control himself or his over-enthusiastic desire to love (aka chew) on me,  I began to change my perspective on him.  After all, he was a rescue dog.   He was hit by a car and left for dead.  Perhaps he learned not to trust any humans?   Maybe he was mistreated by an adult male with a goatee?   Perhaps his capacity for love exceeds his capacity for self control?   Clearly, something in his past is hindering his ability to relate to new strangers, especially males.

I thought about what would happen if we applied this same perspective to the difficult people in our life.   What would happen if we changed our perspective on the following types of people that we all have encountered?

  • The overbearing boss.   Perhaps he grew up in a home where he was never praised?  Maybe he has never experienced the powerful motivator of encouragement?   What if he is treated the same way by his superiors and this form of leadership is all he knows?
  • The rude neighbor.  Maybe she has experienced previous neighbors who have disrespected her property or wishes?   Perhaps she is suffering from a chronic pain unknown to people outside her family?   Maybe your yard is nicer than hers and it makes her jealous?
  • The “know-it-all” friend.   Obviously, this person is struggling with massive amounts of insecurity.   Perhaps she grew up feeling insecure about her intellect or academic abilities.  Maybe she struggles with feeling accepted and this is her way of desperately trying to “fit in.”   Maybe you intimidate her in other ways and this is an area she can feel better than you?
  • The “black sheep” of the family.   Every family seems to have a black sheep in it.   It may not be an immediate family member but someone in the extended family is not like the others.  Maybe their past has brought the family shame.  Perhaps they presently struggle with some sort of vice?   Whether it is an addiction, mental illness or just an annoying personality, this individual makes you want to run.   Your family relation makes that impossible.

The truth is, there are a lot of special needs people out there and I’m not talking about those with mental or physical handicaps.   In fact, you may be considered special needs to someone else and don’t even know it.

Think about it.   The guy who cut you off in traffic today may not be a jerk after all.   Perhaps he was rushing to the hospital to say goodbye to a passing loved one before it was too late?   When you cut someone off in traffic, is it because you have hate in your heart?   Were you trying to get the other driver to spill his coffee in his lap or give him a heart attack?  No.  You got distracted.  You weren’t paying attention.   Your mind was on your upcoming meeting.   You know what you did was unintentional and yet it does not stop the other driver from letting you know you are the scum of the earth.   Obviously, his perspective on you is not the same as your perspective on you.

Sometimes what we see or hear is not really the way things are.   At times, there may be another perspective out there and too few of us are willing to take the time to look for it.

St. Francis of Assissi, the 12th century Catholic friar and preacher once wrote, “Seek first to understand, then be understood.”   I have found that those seven words can radically transform relationships, when applied.  I know they have helped me numerous times as I have encountered a difficult or even abusive person.  Even when I’ve been hurt by a friend, I have tried to understand (in the midst of the pain) their perspective first.

What would happen if we did that, in each relationship we had?   How might our relationships improve if everyone stopped long enough to ask the question, “What is going on in their world that caused them to say or do that?”  Or “What happened in their past (today or years ago) that is making them act this way?”

I remember when I was working with youth, a particular middle school boy was acting out during one of our meetings.   I had a good relationship with this kid, and yet on this one particular day – he disagreed with everything I said.   If I asked the teens to do one thing, this kid would do another.  If I was talking, he was talking.  As I was giving instructions to the group, he was distracting other kids.   Finally, after exhausting my patience, my frustration level was through the roof.  I stopped the meeting and abruptly escorted him outside.  I was on the verge of losing all self control and giving this kid a well deserved verbal lashing for his rude and disrespectful behavior.   As we walked outside the room I was thinking about what to say.   Suddenly and unexpectedly, I felt compassion for him.  Something told me that something else was going on, under the surface.   His behavior was being caused by something much deeper and THAT was the root issue I needed to address.   My demeanor changed.  I pulled up a chair and we sat down and I merely asked, “What’s going on?   Everything ok?”  The flood gates had opened.   This tough kid who had spent the last hour of our youth meeting acting like a rodeo clown started to cry.   Over the next 30 minutes he shared about his parent’s divorce and difficult home life.  At the end of our time together, I wanted to cry.  In fact, after hearing all that he was living through – I wanted to act out.  No wonder he was behaving the way he was.   I realized that though he was wrong to behave the way he did, I needed a different perspective on him.  I needed to figure out a way to help him.   That day, our relationship changed.   I saw all future behavior through a much different lens and it helped me to handle him with more love and grace.

Do you need to change your perspective on certain people in your life?  I know I do.   Are you seeking to understand them before seeking to be understood?   I find myself tempted to discredit anyone who doesn’t understand me.   I don’t think that is what St. Francis had in mind.

I think this is why Jesus had the impact on people that He did.   He saw what others could not (or would not) see.

  • When people looked at Peter, they saw an uneducated, impulsive fisherman.  Jesus saw a disciple, a leader, and one eventually equipped to lead His church.
  • When people saw a leper, they saw an unclean man, unworthy of entering the temple.  Jesus saw a man who needed to be healed and welcomed back into the community of believers.
  • When people saw a tax collector, they saw a dishonest government employee.  Jesus saw a person who needed forgiveness and a new way of doing business.
  • When people saw a prostitute, they saw someone who deserved to be treated like the social outcast she was.   Jesus saw a sister who needed someone to love her in her sin and give her the grace required to get out.
  • When people saw the thief on the cross, they saw a criminal deserving of the law of death.   Jesus saw a repentant heart and a man who desperately wanted a second chance at life.

How do you look at people in your world, especially the people who have hurt you?   It’s easy to villianize them and keep our tainted perspective on them.  After all, they lied/cheated/stole/gossiped/slandered/abandoned/hurt us in some form in the past.   But is that the perspective we are supposed to maintain with them?   Do you want your past to be remembered against you for the rest of your life?

I saw “Bumpy” again yesterday.   In typical fashion, he went stark raving mad at the sound of my voice.   When he was released from his crate, he came after me like a bullet.  But now, my perspective has changed.   He’s no longer a dangerous, mean, “special needs” dog to me.   I’m learning to love this wild beast and learning how to let him love me.

Like it or not, there are some “bumpy” people out there and they want to be loved just like you do.   They probably have a difficult past.  They may respond to you from their wounded well.  They might not have learned certain social graces yet.  They may not act as sophisticated or righteous as you.   They may not improve the quality of your life but I’m pretty convinced they can help improve the quality of your love.

God didn’t put us on earth to become more educated.  He didn’t create us to be more politically correct.  We aren’t here to make money or collect more toys.   He created us to love Him first and others second and He intentionally puts us around the stark-raving mad bumpys of the world to exercise that love.   Easy people are easy to love.   Anyone can do that.  (Matthew 5:46)  It’s the difficult ones that require us to lean on His supernatural strength.

And before we can love some of the these people, we must change our perspective about them.

Some crazy dog is helping me do that.

Me and my new friend, "Mr. Bumpy"

Me and my new friend, “Mr. Bumpy”

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Loving the lepers in our land

lepers1I walked into my local hair cuttery place this week to relieve my sweaty head of its growing mop. I was greeted by “Anna,” a young, thin woman, with long black hair and a sleeve full of tattoos on one arm. I was drawn immediately to her warm smile.

As I sat, we made small talk about the hot weather, her long hair, our children, our siblings and the city where we live. During the conversation she alluded to a strict, Christian upbringing and how she grew up as the homeschooled daughter of an ultra-conservative Baptist minister. With that brief summary of her life, her tattoos suddenly became much more interesting to me. I asked about her conservative parent’s reaction to the controversial, visible art on her arm. Within 5 minutes of conversing, she casually admitted to me she was a lesbian. So much for light conversation.

As I sat in her chair, losing hair rapidly, I was amazed at her transparency. Talking to a total stranger, she just shared something so intensely personal that it literally takes most people years to admit. As the talking continued, I quickly realized we were no longer in the kiddie pool of conversation. Somehow, we dove immediately into the conversational deep end and showed little sign of coming out of it. By the time I was done, I had shared a bit about my religious/ministry background, sordid past and some of the broken pieces called my life. By now, there is a small poodle on the floor next to me, known formerly as my hair. I was pretty sure that if the conversation continued at this depth, I would be bald in record time.

“Anna” and I were separated by age, gender, race, sexual orientation, culture, tattoos, political affliliation & family background. Yet, somehow I felt oddly close to her. Moments earlier, she was a total stranger. In just 15 minutes, she was a kindred spirit, even though our experiences were quite different.

Since church was obviously a big part of her upbringing, I asked where she went now. Knowing most of the churches in this “Bible-buckle” town, I was curious as to where she would feel comfortable attending. Not surprisingly, she doesn’t go anywhere anymore. Though I was sad to hear it, I completely understood why. Where does a “real sinner” go to church? What church in my city would preach the truth and still accept a living out loud lesbian? Most churches tell you to “come as you are” but few know how to love you there. As a card-carrying sinner myself, I have witnessed the church’s struggle first-hand.

As I talked to “Anna,” I found myself wanting to apologize for the Church’s inability to love “them” as they are. On one hand, I understand the church’s theological position. Sin, on any level, cannot be condoned by the church. But, on the other hand, we are called to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” (Matthew 7:12). In other words, Christians are supposed to walk the tough balance between loving the sinner while hating their sin. Many churches have the hate part down. The love feels lacking… just ask the sinners.

The truth is, closet adulterers sit in church pews every week. Concealed alcoholics take the wine of communion every Sunday. Embezzlers count the offering. Pornography addicted Pastors hide behind their pulpits as they preach. Overweight, gluttonous Deacons serve their appetites as much as they serve their parishioners. Church folk have become adept at hiding their sin.

Trust me, I know.

And some sins are more acceptable (to the church) than others. The first sin ever committed and the root of all other sins (pride) is alive and well in most churches. From our moral ivory tower we tend to look down on the big visible sinners while we nurse an invisible spiritually proud heart. But is the hidden sin of pride better than the visible sin of stealing? In God’s eyes, it’s all the same – even if the consequences are different.

I remember my reaction when a friend in college, a Christian, one day claimed he was gay. I struggled with the implication. From my perspective, I didn’t think you could be both. Christians, I thought back then, didn’t sin like that. As I have (regrettably) fallen to my own sinful areas, I now understand Christians who sin.

If you commit adultery, you are forever known as an adulterer. If you kill someone, you are known as a murderer. If you steal an item you are known as a thief. Even if you your behaviors are part of your past, you are still identified by your sins – particularly by those affected by your vice. Some people are tempted to steal. Others are tempted by the “greener grass” on the other side of their married fence. My college friend was tempted by other males. Some would say you cannot be a Christian and sin “big” like that. My Bible is filled with stories of saints that sinned BIG and were still claimed and used by God.

  • Abraham was a liar and God used Him to father a nation.
  • Moses was a murderer and God used him to set His people free from slavery.
  • Jacob was a deceiver and God created the twelve tribes of Israel through his lineage.
  • King David was a liar, murderer and adulterer and God called him a “man after His own heart.”

The list goes on and on. In fact, take a look in the New Testament. A quick glance in the Gospels seems to indicate that Christ spent more time with the big sinners of His day than church leadership. The point is, even “saved” sinners struggle with the sins they were saved from. Their sin doesn’t disqualify them from salvation or Christ’s love, it merely points to their need for it.

Gay sin is no better or worse than straight sin. From casual attenders to ordained minister, what gives any heterosexual sinner any right to look down at gays when we are no better than the social lepers of sexual orientation? The only difference between heterosexual sin and homosexual sin is familiarity. Heterosexual sin, for the church, is just a tad easier to swallow since more of its members understand those temptations.

Years ago, I was speaking at a summer camp in upstate New York. While I was teaching, my eyes were making contact with the youth in the room. As I scanned the room, I noticed one boy with a hat was wearing a mask. I began to think, “What is this kid doing? Why is he wearing a mask while I teach? Is this some sort of joke?” I continued to teach and decided to take a closer look as my eyes came back towards his direction. Our eyes connected as I tried to figure out what he was doing. He was doing nothing but listening intently to my words. The mask was not a mask at all. It turns out, he was a severe burn victim and what I thought was a mask was actually his scarred face. My heart broke at his disfigurement. I got to watch him throughout the rest of the week interact with people and see others reaction to him. Most people just stared. Except for a precious few, most did not know how to act around him. As a result, he seemed largely ignored. You could tell he was used to it. People avoided contact because his presence made them uncomfortable. We tend to do the same with those who sin differently or bigger than us, especially in the church.

Today, I have several gay friends who also claim to be Christians. Some still struggle with their sexuality. Others have simply embraced it. Gay or straight, the issue isn’t whether you are tempted to sin. We are ALL tempted in our own ways. The issue is whether you are falling to those temptations. And we ALL fall from time to time. “To err is human,” as the saying goes. It’s the common denominator we ALL share. Men or women, black or white, gay or straight, church leader or gang member, we ALL possess a fallen human nature. That doesn’t give us a license to sin (Romans 6) – it merely explains why we do it. We ALL are one decision away from trouble, whether we work at a church or refuse to walk into one.

I relate to “Anna.” I relate to a messy, complicated life. I have experienced the social shame of a leper. I have felt the pain of rejection from the church. I know what it’s like to feel the icy stares of people who are “better” than me. I know what it’s like to be ignored and avoided… especially by “good Christians.” My social circle has greatly diminished over the last few years. My phone doesn’t ring as much as it used to. Invitations to do anything are few and far between. Living a sinful life has that affect on your relationships. And yet, like my gay friends, we were all created for relationships. As God reminded Adam in the Garden, “it is not good for man(kind) to be alone.” Straight sin or gay sin – it’s all still sin to God. His job is to judge and transform sinners into saints. Our only job is to love one another. What would happen if we left the judging to Him and actually started to love everyone as we should? People like “Anna” might be in church.

It’s no wonder, when you read the Gospels, that you see the public sinners chasing Christ around Galilee. Known prostitutes fell before Him and washed His feet with their repentant tears. Lepers lined up for healing. Tax collectors had Him in their homes for dinner. Women, children, and everyone else who was an outcast were invited “in” by Him. Why? Because He manifested the one characteristic that we most lack today. He lived out what we merely preach. Love. He LOVED them. As they were. In their sin. Messy.

Gay men need love just as much as heterosexual men. Lesbian women need to be accepted as much as straight women. Unmarried, heterosexual sex is just as wrong (in God’s eyes) as homosexual relations. Whether you are a pastor or a predator – both need the transforming love of Christ. And Christ’s transforming agent of choice, like it or not, is the church. After all, who better to love sinful people than other sinful people? Who better to help the alcoholic than the one who has recovered from it? The church was never designed to be a palace for the perfect. The church wasn’t created to be a place where people pretend they aren’t sinning. It is supposed to be THE place where sinners can walk in with their sin and walk out with His grace. It is to be filled with beggars telling all the other beggars where to find Bread.

Christianity is supposed to be a “rubber meets the road” kind of faith. Is that the kind you possess? It’s one thing to read about love in a book. It’s another thing to put on its shoes and walk around.

If a leper approached you, would you touch them? Christ did.

If you caught the woman in adultery (John 4), what would you do with your stone? Christ dropped His.

As Jesus hung on a cross, between two thieves – both were hurling insults at Him (Mark 15:32). During the most painful hour He has ever experienced, He was mocked and jeered by common criminals. They watched Him suffer. They saw the abuse inflicted upon Him by the Romans. To the world, Jesus was merely hanging on a cross. Jesus, however, was still working – changing hearts – and He had one more heart on His schedule.

The thief didn’t confess his many sins. He didn’t make excuses or even say he was sorry. He didn’t promise to change his ways or try to make a deal with God. He was in no position to barter on any level. He merely watched Love absorb hate and that Love changed him. On the cross, Christ didn’t preach a sermon. He didn’t do anything but hang and bleed and yet, somehow, His love for a common thief was so unmistakable that it caused a hardened heart to break.

That is love.

That is what we are called to share.

Especially to those who sin differently than us.

Love more. Judge less. And watch what kind of people God starts bringing to church.

Real sinners.

Just like you.

Just like me.

See you on Sunday.

—————————————-
“Lord, now indeed I find
Thy pow’r, and Thine alone,
Can change the leper’s spots
And melt the heart of stone.”
– Jesus paid it all, hymn

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A day of Independence?

Stock Photo of the Consitution of the United States and Feather QuillToday is July 4th, known in America as “Independence Day,” the day our nation officially proclaimed our independence from the British monarchy.    We now have 237 candles in our national cake.   Happy Birthday to us.

As this holiday has approached, I have been thinking a lot lately about our independence, as a people and nation.

When you are born, you are immediately dependent upon your parents for survival.   By age two, however, you begin to develop some level of independence.   You want to feed yourself, walk where you want, do things on your own.  This is normal and quite healthy as we grow.  Time passes and that “terrible two” eventually realizes that he/she still needs Mom and Dad a bit more than they thought.   The child again recognizes their dependence.   This dependent/independent pendulum swings again at least three different times over the course of your  life; during the teen years, in young adulthood and again as we enter the elderly phase.   These independent/dependent stages are very normal.   On one level, we desperately want our independence.  On another level, there are seasons where we are dependent upon the very people we desire independence from.   Such is human nature and the way life works.  As much as we desire it, we are not as independent as we like to think.

237 years ago, we officially declared our national independence from the British government.   Like a prodigal son, we left the shores of England and embarked on a dangerous journey “across the pond.”   Against incredible obstacles, we created our own constitution and laws and began a new country with new traditions, like none the world had ever seen.   Today we take a day as a nation to celebrate our independence.  

But are we really independent?   

By definition the word implies that an independent one is “free from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others.”   By that definition, are any of us truly free?

  • I don’t need to tell you how important oil is to our nation’s economy and lifestyle.  The U.S. imports approximately 10.6 million barrels of petroleum (per day) from about 80 countries.   That sounds like dependence to me.
  • Of our $16 trillion in debt, approximately $5 trillion is held by more than 35 other countries, with China and Japan topping the list.
  • 51% of the world’s coffee consumption comes from Brazil, Colombia & Indonesia.  These countries (among many others) control our access to the number one drug in America.  In other words, if it wasn’t for Latin America, you would be late for work, grumpy and experiencing caffeine withdrawal every day of the week.
  • Your cell phone, computer and flat screen TV are brought to you by rare earth minerals such as neodymium.  Unfortunately, the United States only possesses 13% of the world’s rare earth reserves.   Because of this, we have become heavily dependent upon numerous foreign countries (like China) as these rare earth minerals are crucial in the manufacture of jet fighter engines, antimissile defense systems, and smart bombs, among other advanced military systems.   Even our military dominance is dependent upon others.
  • We are even dependent upon the continent of Africa.  75% of the world’s chocolate comes from this third world nation.   As we all know, this can singlehandedly control a woman’s mood.  <wink>

As great as America is, as sovereign as we are, as dominant as we are in world affairs, we are still massively dependent upon other countries.   We can celebrate our independence and even enjoy the perks of being a world power, but we must not forget that we are not the world’s parent – merely one of the larger siblings in a global family.

As I reflect on our personal dependence upon family and friends and our nation’s dependence upon other nations, I can’t help but think of our collective dependence upon an Almighty God.  In His grace, He “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45)  Christian and pagan alike are all dependent upon the One who “holds all things together.” (Colossians 1:17) 

For example, modern scientists marvel at the human brain.  With more memory and capacity than our fastest computer, we still haven’t come close to uncovering its magnificence or even tapping its full potential.  Without the creative power of the brain, we could not develop any “smart” technology in our hands today.  Without our intelligent designs and industrial strength, we could not build the homes, structures, highways & vehicles that allow us to live and work and travel like we do.   But how did our human brain come to be?   Was it the result of a random big bang?  Could it have evolved over millions of years from a single cell out of a stagnant lake?   Or did an alien life form actually drop the beginnings of life to Earth?   Honestly, it takes more faith to believe some of these theories than it does to believe that an Intelligent Creator created an intelligent creation.  The truth is, God created us and then gifted us with such immense creativity and ability, that He Himself once said of mankind that “nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.” (Genesis 11:6)    How staggering is that comment from the Creator of the universe, One who creates something out of nothing??   Even the atheist, as he proclaims his independence from God (Proverbs 14:1), does so with borrowed air in his lungs while standing on a planet that hangs precariously balanced at just the optimal tilt and distance from the Sun.  

The point is, the concept of independence is somewhat ridiculous.   None of us are truly independent.   In spite what we might think, none of us are “self-made.”   As you stand at the summit of your mountain, career or personal achievement, just remember – you arrived at the peak with some help – even if you choose not to recognize it.  

Just as we can scarcely call ourselves independent as a nation, likewise we are equally dependent (personally speaking) on others.   For years, I spent most of my life living on an emotionally independent island.  For the most part, I kept my feelings, thoughts and struggles to myself.   Though I helped others with their problems, I never allowed anyone to help me with mine.  Fearful of transparency and intimacy, I lived behind a safe emotional wall and enjoyed my fascade of emotional independence.   Others needed me.   I convinced myself that I didn’t need them.  Sadly, what I didn’t realize at the time was how that thinking was killing me and destroying the relationships of those I loved.  One day, my emotional wall came crashing down and I became instantly dependent upon others for survival.   Five years later, I still find myself leaning hard on family and friends – like I never have before.  It has been a frightenly refreshing experience.  English poet, John Donne, once wrote, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”   He was right.   The ferry to my emotional island is now closed.   I’m enjoying my new life back on the mainland.

As you celebrate Independence Day today, take a moment to recognize your dependence on others and your dependence upon an Almighty God.  Thank them for the role they have played in your life.   You wouldn’t (and couldn’t) be where you are today without them.   

As the Apostle Paul reminded those in Athens, “God is not far from each one of us for in Him we live and move and exist.” (Acts 17:27-28)    Jesus reminded His disciples about this same truth in the Book of John, “I am the Vine and you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

No one is truly independent.   Not you.  Not me.  Not even the powerful United States of America.  

  • “The Declaration of Independence laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity.” – John Adams
  • “The Fourth of July ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.” – John Adams
  • “And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God … and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.” – Abraham Lincoln
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The Facebook Fraud

I have a confession to make.

I have deceived you, my readers, friends and family. I’d like to say it was the first time I have ever done this, but unfortunately it is not.  In fact, if I were to be truly honest, I’d have to admit I deceive you more times than I don’t.  What I did is done every day by literally millions of people. You have probably done it too. That makes me feel better. It doesn’t make it right, it just makes it rampant. Like speeding on the expressway, this deceit is done so many times by so many we have almost forgotten how bad it is. And sadly, it perpetuates a myth that is as strong as a fairy tale and wrong as a white-collar crime.

What did I do? I call it the Facebook Fraud though it doesn’t need Facebook or even the internet to exist.  What Adam & Eve began in the garden, we still do today – covering up the truth and pretending we are in better shape than we are.   They used fig leaves.  We use Facebook.   It’s deceitful at its core.   Simply defined, the Facebook Fraud is this:

facebook fraud pic“The act of posting something on Facebook (a picture or status update) that leads others to believe your life is better than it really is.”

The reality is, these days – I’m having the struggle of my life.   On every level, on most every day – I’m hurting and can’t seem to catch my breath.   Only a precious few know this, however, since the majority of people out there only know me from what they see me post.  Like you, I tend to only post positive things or things that make me look good.   My rationale is this – who wants to read about my actual, depressing day?   In the spirit of Colossians 3:2, I try to set my mind on “things above” even if I spend most of my days struggling with “earthly things.”  If you’re honest, I have a feeling you do this too.  I mean, could it be possible that as I glance at my news feed and look at the pictures of my hundreds of friends that everyone is living their “best life now” like they portray and I’m the only one struggling?   I don’t think so.

shirt_plate_cheetos

Not me… but sometimes I feel like this. 🙂

Whereas the town drunk wears his miserable existence on his sleeve, the rest of us are able to create the image we want others to see.   Like slick marketers, we post happy pictures.  As sophisticated public relation professionals, we post pictures of our latest success.   How many times have I read how many miles someone ran that day while I sit on my couch with a bag of Cheetos?   Did they really run all 10 miles?  How come I didn’t post a picture of me with the Cheetos on the couch?  How come we don’t read status updates like:

“Got up to run 4 miles today but only ran to my mailbox.  I then jogged about a mile stopping every 100 yards to breathe.  The next 2 miles I crawled with my lips.  Finally had to be picked up and driven home.   On the way back, stopped at Chick-Fil-A for a milkshake.”

Are we being honest with our public persona?  Is your husband really that loving all the time or do you just want us to think he is?  Are your kids really that obedient and sweet?  Do you really look like the picture you just posted of yourself, in the right lighting, from the right angle?   Is your house that clean normally or only before you have guests over?

Are we being real or honest about our life?   If our offline life is a mess, why do we pretend its successful online?   How come we don’t post pictures of the cake we baked that did not turn out right the first time?   How come we don’t post pictures of the bank overdraft statement we just received?   How come we don’t show video clips of what our kids room really looks like?   How come we don’t include shots of bad hair days?   Where are the photos of us looking overweight and with bad posture?   We are quick to show the award we just received at work, but forgot to mention the speeding ticket we received on the way.

One of the inerrant problems with Facebook or our online media presence is that (for the most part) we are the sole overseers of what is posted.   You only know what I want you to know about me.   You only see what I want you to see.  Only our “friends” have access to our page.   Only those who love us can comment on our stuff.   And in the event that something is said that paints a different picture than what we desire, we can immediately delete it.

Recently, I wrote a blog entry that was read by a former friend, vocal about their disdain for me.  I was actually impressed that a declared hater would read anything I wrote.   I know this person read it because of the nasty comment that was left for me, on the blog.  As the creator and moderator of my blog, I can choose whether I want the comment to be approved and visible or simply deleted.  I was actually tempted to leave it because it was refreshing to receive an honest opinion from someone on the other side.  In the end, I decided to delete it as the comments barely focused on the content of the blog and was designed to be a personal attack against me.   As I read their venomous comment, I was reminded of the value of them.   I thought, “Not everyone likes you, Rod.  Not everyone thinks your writing is great.   Not everyone allows you to get away with the fraud.” 

This is one of the reasons why I appreciate the Bible.   God does not allow the characters mentioned in it to have access to their image.  A person’s life, in the Scriptures, runs the gammut of the good, the bad & the ugly.   Few mentioned in its pages come out squeaky clean.

  • Noah built an amazing structure called the Ark and saved his family from destruction.  3 chapters later he lies naked, drunk in his tent.  (Genesis 9)
  • Abraham was certainly a man of great faith but God also includes how he was a chronic liar. (Genesis 12)
  • Lot was considered righteous and yet he offers up his own daughters sexually to evil men. (Genesis 19)
  • Jacob may have been the father of the nation of Israel, but God makes sure his deception is well documented. (Genesis 27)
  • Moses was indeed a great leader, by all accounts, but he was a murderer as well – a glimpse of his past that I am sure he wished was not recorded for us to read.  (Exodus 2)
  • Rahab definitely acted bravely but is remembered more by her affiliation as a prostitute, the world’s oldest profession.  (Joshua 2)
  • Samson was a judge known for his physical strength and mighty victories over his enemies even as his moral strength was non-existent and the cause of his eventual downfall.  (Judges 16)
  • David, the beloved King of Israel, and writer of Psalms – committed adultery, murder and was a pretty horrific parent.  (II Samuel 11)
  • Daniel, as godly as he was, apparently bowed down to a golden statue.  (Daniel 3)
  • Peter, the “Rock” of the church denied Christ on more than one occasion. (John 18)
  • Thomas, a committed disciple of Christ, doubted his Leader publicly.  (John 20)

The truth is, there are Elders at their church who are filled with spiritual pride, Deacons who get drunk and Pastors who look at porn.  There are housewives that cheat on their husbands and famous actresses that steal.   There are politicians who accept bribes and university coaches who abuse their players.  There are writers who plagiarise and speakers who embellish the truth.   In short, as great as any of us might be at any given moment – we have glaring weaknesses that accompany our amazing strengths.

I am quite sure that Pastor Rick Warren, author of the “Purpose Driven Life”, leads a purpose driven life.   But there is also no doubt that his purpose driven life is grief driven today as he wrestles with the news of his son’s death.   It’s easy to talk about book sales and our time with the President.  It’s much harder to admit publicly that you need prayer because your son just killed himself.   Those who live in the fishbowl of fame don’t mind the eyes on them while they are successful.  But the moment they experience failure, most wish to do so privately as if the world doesn’t need to see both sides of life.

This morning I will be getting ready for Church.  As occurs most Sundays, I will sit amongst some well dressed, smiling people.   People with perfect clothes, perfect families, perfect lives.   They all probably got 8 hours of sleep, had a protein rich breakfast and had no problem finding their shoes in their neatly organized closet.   Their car, washed yesterday, is full of gas and they sang together, in harmony, as they drove to church.   Meanwhile, at the other end of the pew, sits me – fraud free, before the One who loves me in spite of my mess.

What’s your status today?  How are you doing really?   Be honest with someone, starting with yourself.    I’m not suggesting that we all want to see pictures of your bad hair day or hear you rant about your miserable situation.   But if I hear one more person tell me how they ran a 4 minute mile or lost 22lbs yesterday from their new diet, I’m going to scream.

That is, after I finish this bag of Cheetos.

Posted in Christian | Tagged , , , , , , | 36 Comments

Empty tomb or empty faith?

emptytomb“The tomb is empty.”

I have a close friend that adds that sentence as his signature at the bottom of all his emails.   Even in October.    When I first received an email from him, in December 2002, I remember thinking how unusual a signature that was.   Some people include their phone number.  Others list their website.  A few even add a quote of some sort.  He wants everyone to know that the tomb is empty.   Even when it’s not Easter.

For those without a Christian upbringing, education or worldview – his signature may seem like a confusing (if not morbid) thought.   Especially if it was mentioned months away from Easter.

The tomb?   Whose tomb?

It’s empty?   So what?   What the heck does that mean?

Only the biblically literate truly understand what is being said here.

Today, Easter is a day that means so many different things to so many people.   For some, it is a celebration that Spring is upon us.  For others, it is merely another excuse for families to gather and eat.   Those with small children like to paint, hide and find eggs.   Almost everyone eats a colored hard-boiled egg or Peep or chocolate bunny during this season.  For many, it is one of two times a year they find themselves in a church.   But for the Christians, world-wide, the holiday is more than just colored eggs & chocolate bunnies.  Easter Sunday (or Resurrection Day) is central to our faith.

Easter Sunday, like Christmas Day, has become extremely commercialized over the years.   Immediately after Valentine’s Day we begin seeing bunnies and eggs and candy.   Like Christmas, if you’re not careful, it’s easy to forget what this holiday is supposed to be about.   Stores promote Easter sales.   Communities promote Easter Egg hunts.  This weekend, I was reminded of how far the holiday has eroded when I saw a line (100 deep) waiting to sit on the lap of a man in a bunny suit.   Mall employees might care about the meaning of the holiday but Mall owners care not.   After all, people will pay for a photograph of their child sitting on a Bunny’s lap.  There is no financial profit from an empty tomb.   Like it or not, the Easter Bunny (like Santa) has just about hijacked the holiday and fewer each year seem to understand the significance of the day.

In a nutshell, Easter is simply this – the celebration of a sinless Christ rising from the dead (according to the prophecy), proof that God accepted His sacrificial death on the cross as payment for the sins of His people.

Rising from the dead is unbelievable in any culture.  Death is one of the permanent aspects of our human existence and no one returns from the experience.  It has only been documented as happening a few times in all of human history and every time it has occurred – God (as the Author and Giver of life) receives credit for it.  It is truly an impossible feat, unless God is doing the resurrection.  Of all of the documented cases, only one time did the Deceased raise Himself.   That single occurrence is the reason for this season.   Christ rose again.  The tomb is empty.   And for those who may doubt it ever happened, here are eight solid reasons we can trust it occurred.

  1. A broken Roman Seal.   Jesus death was a major news event.  Since He (and His followers) were claiming He was the King of the Jews, the Romans were interested in seeing this “King” executed for fear that He would overthrow the Roman government.   Since there were rumors going around that Jesus would and could rise from the dead, the Romans were quite interested in keeping Him in the tomb.  An occupied tomb would crush a rising Christianity and prove their Leader a liar.  After He was killed, He was placed in a tomb that was officially sealed by the Romans.  The fact that the Roman government (the most powerful government in all of history at that time) sealed the tomb is significant.  To break a Roman seal was punishable by death.   The Jews weren’t going to break the seal since they wanted Him dead.   The Romans weren’t going to break the seal because they wanted Him dead.  And His rag-tag followers, many of them from the unarmed, poor working class could not break the seal, even if they wanted to because of point #2.
  2. Heavily guarded tomb.   The traditional story makes us believe that there were only 2 or 3 guards present to guard the tomb.  Logically, this does not make any sense.   If Herod had 16 soldiers guard Peter in Acts 12:4, then would it not make sense that he would have at least that amount to guard the body of the most controversial figure of his time?   Knowing there were at least 11 disciples at that time, would it not make sense to have at least that many guards, one for each disciple?   What about all of Christ’s other followers – many of whom would have wanted to visit the tomb.   If an angry mob showed up, could a mere 16 soldiers stop them?  Obviously, no one is getting in or out without having to overcome these guards.   Both the Romans & the Jews have plenty of incentive to make sure this body stays put.   It is reasonable to assume it was heavily guarded with more than just a handful of guards.
  3. The tomb was empty.  The fact that the tomb was indeed empty was confirmed by both Jewish and Roman sources, haters of Christ and His brand of teaching.  Since both Jews and Romans wanted Jesus dead, it was in neither party’s best interest to have a missing body on their hands.   In fact, without Jesus’ physical body, it creates a world of problems for them.  So troubling is this news, the authorities would rather create a lie (Matthew 28:11-15) then let the Truth come out.
  4. rolled stoneThe stone was rolled away.   The first people to discover the empty tomb were two women – Mary Magdalene & another woman named Mary.   They desired to anoint Jesus’ body with spices (common burial ritual) but had voiced their dilemma to each other, “Who will roll the stone away for us?” recognizing their inability to move (even budge) the 1 ton (or more) stone.   As they approached the tomb, they discovered the stone was already rolled away and an angel was seated nearby.   They also would have had to overcome armed Roman soldiers to do so.   The point is this, the only people who wanted the stone moved were not physically able to do so.
  5. Roman guards had fled.   The Roman guards were there for one reason – to make sure no one took that body.   The Roman government knew one thing for sure, an alive Christ causes them problems.   Keeping Him dead was a priority, so much so that they put the weight of their military behind it.   The soldiers would also have understood one thing as a group – if Christ’s body, for any reason, left that tomb – they would all be dead, executed by their own government.  When the angel appeared and the stone was divinely removed, the guards “shook for fear of Him and became like dead men.”   They knew the consequence of His disappearance.
  6. The presence of grave-clothes.   After Jesus was killed, His body was taken off the cross and placed in grave-clothes, another common occurence.   When Peter got to the tomb, all he saw were the linen wrappings, no body.   Rumors began to fly that Jesus’ body was taken by the disciples (Matthew 28:11-15).   If someone were to kidnap a body, the last thing they would do is to take the time to take off the grave-clothes before leaving.  To assume that Jesus would have had the strength to revive Himself after crucifixion, remove the grave-clothes, push a 1 ton rock away, get past a dozen (or more) armed guards and escape unnoticed takes more faith than just believing God raised Him from the dead.   The presence of grave-clothes points to resurrection, not kidnapping.
  7. Living eyewitnesses.   Soon after the tomb was discovered empty, Jesus personally appeared to over 500 people.  By the time the Apostle Paul wrote about the resurrection (some 30  years after it occurred) by his own admission many of them were still alive and able to be interviewed.   A living eyewitness trumps heresay any day.   Ask any lawyer, 500 reliable eyewitnesses would be enough credibility to prove just about anything.   Prior to becoming an Apostle, Paul was a Christian-killing Pharisee with no reason or desire to believe in Christ or His resurrection.   The fact that he admits to seeing the risen Christ is significant.
  8. The disciples lives.   By the time of Jesus’ death, every disciple of His had left Him.  Every one.   Men who had walked with him for three years took off as He breathed His last.  After all, if the Romans killed their leader, why would they not go after His followers?   Despite their love and close friendship with Jesus, they left Him when He needed them the most.   Having said that, the most remarkable proof of the resurrection of Christ is the transformed lives of these formerly cowardly disciples.   What would make them bold?  What would make them fearless?  What would make the majority of them willing to die horrific deaths as a result of their allegiance to their dead Leader?  His resurrection.  His appearing to them, after death, was so life changing that they could not help but become emboldened in their resurrected faith.

Without the resurrection of Christ, there is no Christianity.   A dead body in the tomb would point to a dead Christianity.   Paul reminds his hearers of the spiritual significance of this event, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (I Corinthians 15:17).

Those who know me know that my sins are many.   My crimes against Heaven are well documented.   God’s penalty for those sins are not only deserved but fair.  Sins against a righteous God deserve death (Genesis 2).   In just four short decades, I have created a mess that only God can fix.   Being good just isn’t good enough.   In God’s economy, not even one good deed can outweigh the tiniest white lie – let alone some of the bigger sins I have committed.  If you are honest with yourself and your past, your assessment is no better.

Good Friday reminds us all that God climbed up on a cross for a sinful race in our sinful place.  Through His death, God swiped His Christ Visa and paid a debt we could not pay.  A debt that would have cost us our very lives.

Easter Sunday reminds us all that those sins have been paid in full, for those who accept the payment.  His resurrection is the receipt that the payment was good.  It’s not about eggs and bunnies but redemption and grace.   Good Friday brought death.  Easter Sunday brings life.

The reality is – either Christ pays for your sins or you do.   Today, you either have an empty tomb or an empty faith.

How about you, friend?   Which do you possess?

Posted in General | 2 Comments

Lord of the peanut, lord of the play.

Me with Mr. Peanut, a gift from a family member with a sick sense of humor.

Me with Mr. Peanut, a gift from a family member with a sick sense of humor.

Last week I got a phone call that makes every parent’s heart stop for a minute.   I learned that my oldest son was being rushed to the emergency room.   Unfortunately, we both share the same life-threatening allergy to peanuts.  Unfortunately for him, he accidentally ate a cracker laced with the deadly nut and only realized it after it hit the bottom of his bottomless pit of a stomach.   Such is what happens when you eat first, read ingredient labels second.   I have been in his shoes too many times to count.

To those without the allergy, having an allergy to a peanut is amusing.   In the early days, when people learned of my allergy – they would laugh in disbelief, as if I was making this up.   “Really?  A little peanut?  Are you kidding me?”    The name itself conjures images of something  tiny.   When an embryo is growing in the womb of a mother, it is often referred to as the little “peanut.”   When a toddler is among older siblings, you may hear him being called the “peanut.”   It certainly does not seem big or strong enough to end a life.   Statistically, it kills about 10 people per year in the United States alone.   I am pretty committed to not let my son or I join that list of ten.

The peanut allergy is somewhat unpredictable.  It can certainly be unforgiving.  Some people can have an immediate reaction at the smell of it.  (Even a synthetic peanut-scented “scratch and sniff” sticker bothers me!)  Others react when they touch it.  Some react when it merely touches their lips.   Everyone with the allergy reacts when it is ingested.   As far as reactions go, a variety of symptoms can occur, varying person to person.  Hives. swollen eyes, itchy tongue.  In extreme cases, anaphylaxis sets in.  In other words, your throat swells to the point that your air passage is closed.  It is known as one of the more deadly allergies out there because of the notorious speed at which it moves.  It is not unheard of to go from contact to corpse within a matter of minutes.  (One girl died, a few years ago, after being kissed by her boyfriend after he ate a PB & J sandwich.)   Having almost died twice from my reactions, I understand how serious this allergy can be.  

As I raced to be with my other children while his mother drove him to the emergency room, I processed numerous thoughts:

  • “I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
  • “I’ve been through this a dozen times myself – it’ll all work out.”
  • “I wonder what time he’ll be home from the E.R.”
  • “What were my last words to him?   Ya know, just in case.”
  • “Is he scared?”
  • “I wonder what symptoms he is feeling now.”
  • “I bet he tries to use this as an excuse to get out of school tomorrow.”

I prayed.   I drove fast.   I started to worry.   And then I remembered who is the Lord of the peanut.

Life is fragile like that.   Occasionally, it reminds us that we are not as strong or invincible as we want to believe.   We are one car accident away from life change – even if we wear a belt.  We are one trip to the doctor away from devastation – even when we feel healthy.  Those of us in South Carolina know that we are one play away on the ball field unable to see the injury to come to a beloved running back.   One accident, one diagnosis, one slalom on the slope, one slip on the job, one phone call, one incident from our lives being changed – forever.   If I have learned anything about life during my 4+ decades here, it is how short and precious life really is. 

As I sat at home praying for my son, wondering just how serious this “attack” was for him – I realized (again) Who is really in charge here.   Christian or atheist, black or white, straight or gay, Republican or Democrat, American or foreigner, pilot or passenger – when our life (or those we love) is in the balance…

  • We ALL pray, even if schools say we cannot.   
  • We ALL bend a knee, even if we look foolish to others.
  • We ALL quiet our souls, in spite of the noise around us.
  • We ALL change our Facebook status, imploring an army of other prayers.

At some point, we are all reminded that there is something bigger than us out there that we must beg/plead to – when life is in the balance.  The saying is true, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”   Turbulence at 33,000 feet can make even the hardened skeptic pray. 

My son returned home from the emergency room in record time.   He was fine.   The anti-dote (epinephrine) was given and he was breathing easy, once again.   As I put my head to the pillow, I realized I had averted a life-changing incident.   I was grateful for the outcome and thankful I had another day to be his Dad.   I also renewed my hatred for peanuts, vowed to never visit Georgia and committed to a life of jihad against that form of protein.

As my body was shutting down for the night, my thoughts were lifted upward.   I thought about the deadly allergy to sin we all possess.   I remembered the anti-dote in Christ, the Epi-Pen of God.   But more than that, I was reminded that He is still in charge here, even on the days I forget that.  

The riser of the sun and the Rotator of the moon, He rules even our diets.   Lord of both Presidents and peanuts, sometimes He uses laws to get our attention while other times He uses allergies.  Should the sunset escape our view, should we ignore the praises of birds, should we be oblivious to our daily dose of oxygen He liberally provides even to those who hate Him, God is still able to get our attention.   As King David reminded us in Proverbs 21, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.”   He got Moses attention through a burning bush (Exodus 3).  He got Pharaoh’s attention through the death of his son (Exodus 12).   God can use hurricanes, earthquakes & fires but He prefers to speak in a whisper – just ask Elijah (I Kings 19).   He has an entire world at His disposal to get your attention too.   What will it take for you to tilt your ear?

Last night I took my two boys to see their sister in her school play.  The only thing more dreadful than attending a middle school play is to watch a middle school girls basketball game.   Even hockey games have higher scores!   As you can imagine, the last thing two boys want to do is attend their sister’s school play on a Saturday night.   Complaints abounded.  “Do we have to?”   “She doesn’t care if we go!”   “Dad, it will be boring.”   “Her part isn’t that big, can’t we just watch her scene and leave?”   I have to say, their complaints were convincing, if not compelling.  I was certainly tempted to leave them home.  I realized at that moment I was raising two attorneys.   Unmoved, we all went to the play.  To their chagrin, I even sat in the very front row.   They were not going to miss their sister’s theatrical debut.   As they both sat sullen in the front row, I watched their transformation.  As the play went on, they both stared at the actors in front of them.  They laughed at all the right moments.   It was obvious, they were actually engaged and enjoying themselves.  As a parent, I sat relieved.  Relieved I didn’t cave to their complaints.  Relieved that I had committed to doing the right thing, even if it made me unpopular.  Relieved that they were enjoying themselves.   As we left, my older son looked at me sheepishly and said, “Dad, thanks for making us go.  I enjoyed it.”   All parents cherish those rare moments.   The battle was worth it. 

In those moments, clarity is gifted to me.   I see life more clearly.  I slowly begin to understand why God allows us to endure certain trials.  Now I understand why we must be forced, at times, to do things we don’t want to do.   We buck, we complain, we cry and whine and yet God, often silent, remains unmoved.   Only after the experience, do we learn the lesson.  Only after the pain, do we see the purpose.  Only after the trial, do we learn to trust.  He does know what He’s doing, even when He seems like He doesn’t.   He doesn’t hate us, as we sometimes think in our adolescent faith.  He doesn’t want us miserable, though His decisions may make us miserable.  He puts us in the front row and makes us uncomfortable knowing that transformation is around the corner, should we humble ourselves to see it.  He is far more interested in our holiness than our happiness and He loves us in spite of how we treat Him.

He is Lord of the peanut.  I was lord of the play.   Both my sons and I learned a bit about parental sovereignty this week and how we are better because of it. 

“Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”  (Psalm 115:3)  

I’m so glad God doesn’t cave to my complaints.   I’m relieved He often doesn’t give me what I want.   I’m a better person when He says no to my spiritual tantrums…

Unless I have to attend a middle school girl’s basketball game.  No good can come from that.

Oh, and for the record – my son did go to school that next morning.   Nice try, kid.

Posted in Christian, Parenting | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Cards, Life and the hand you are dealt.

7_playing_cardsMy first memory of playing cards was with my late grandmother, “Mom Mom Robinson.”   I enjoyed the various card games she taught me and have since played countless games of Poker, Rummy, Old Maid, Uno, etc. with my friends and family.  As the deck is being shuffled and the dealer deals your hand, it’s exciting to see what you will receive.   Once the cards are spread in your hand, it is your job to play the right card at the right time and see if you can win with what you have been given.  When my kids were younger, we played “Go Fish” regularly.  Competition coarses through my veins, even if my opponents can’t read or tie their shoes.  Even against my cute little seven-year old, I will find a way to leave him with the Old Maid.

I have learned that the game of cards is a lot like life.  You cannot control what cards you receive, only the cards you play.  We all receive genetic cards in our hand.   If blue eyes or heart disease or cancer runs in your family, the “chances” of you receiving one of those cards are high.  We all receive nurture cards.   If you grew up with a worrisome mother or angry father, you will probably receive a similar card in your hand.  Even the environment of the game is decided for you.  Some get to play in the freedom of America.  Others must play their cards in the poverty of Africa.  You have little control of the cards you receive.   You merely control what you choose to play and when you choose to play them.

For example, some receive the “Queen of cancer” card.   Their doctor diagnoses them with a stage four tumor and suddenly their outlook on the game of life is bleak.  How can they possibly win this game with that card in their hand?  Some receive the “Ace of unemployment” card.   The game has been going great until their employer hands them the dreaded “laid off” card.  Others receive the “Jack of betrayal” or the “King of sudden tragedy” card.   Of no fault of their own, they are given an undesired card of pain and must figure out how to navigate the rest of their life with this disadvantage.  Maybe the cards you have received aren’t face value cards.  Maybe it’s a “two of broken bone?” or a “three of minor car accident”?  Whether you receive a terrible face value card or a smaller, less significant card of annoyance, we all can relate to a hand of difficulty.

Of course, with every dealt hand, there are some good cards as well.   The “four of promotion” card can come from an employer after seeing your consistent hard work.  The “five of cancer free” card can come to those who fight the terrible disease and refuse to let the game end there.   Obviously, some of our cards are not tangible at all.  The “six of faith” card can be played by all – if you possess it.  The “seven of attitude” card is one we all have in our hand, though whether it is positive or negative is entirely up to the holder.  I love watching the “eight of humor” card in action.  Regardless of the current hand, those who play this card are just more fun to be around – even if they are losing the game.   The types of cards are endless.   Whereas a real card game gives you about seven cards per hand, life offers you much more.   Whereas a real card game might give you a joker or Old Maid, reality can provide some life changing cards in a matter of moments.

The truth is, most of us, at varying points, do not like the cards we are dealt.  When we compare them with others, we often complain and whine and wish we had their hand.   No hand is perfect and we cannot always attain desired cards.  Regardless of what we are given, we must figure out a way to play our best, play within the rules and do what we can with what we have been given.

  • Think about the cards Helen Keller was given.  Just shy of her 2nd birthday, she contracted an illness that left her permanently deaf and blind.   Without any of the advantages of modern medicine or technology, she became a world-famous speaker and writer, learning how to communicate in spite of the cards in her hand.
  • Jackie Robinson was given many cards to play.  Most impressive was his ability to play baseball.  He was also born black, a disadvantaged card to possess in the first half of the 20th century in America.  In spite of his race, Jackie played the card of resilience and by his example led the way for thousands of people of color to enter the realm of professional sports.
  • If given the choice, many would trade cards with Oprah Winfrey, a television talk show host, producer and philanthropist. The only thing more impressive than her successes are the cards she was given to play with.  Born to teenage parents in poverty-stricken Mississippi, she was repeatedly molested by male relatives.  To cope, she turned to drugs, alcohol and sex and gave birth to a premature baby when she was just 14.  The baby died a month later.  In spite of the beginning cards in her hand, she turned her life around and has become a true American success story.
  •  Chris Gardner could be any person reading this blog.   Married with one child, he invested his entire life savings into a business endeavor that did not work – financially devastating his family.  Soon after, his wife left him and his son.  If his loss of income and marriage were not bad enough, he also received “the card” of homelessness.  Chris took the cards he was given and learned how to win in spite of them.  In fact, so successful was his turn around that you can watch the story yourself on Netflix.  The movie made about his life is called, “The pursuit of Happyness” starring Will Smith.

I learned about the painful cards life can deal to you at the early age of five.   One month shy of my 6th birthday, I sat in the living room with my brother and sleeping father.   My brother and I were playing with some toys while Dad took a nap on the couch.  It was a rainy, cold December morning and I had no idea that I was about to receive a life-changing face value card of tragedy.   Without warning, a loud popping sound came from my Dad’s chest.  Immediately sensing a problem, I ran to get my Mom.  While I was explaining what I heard, another popping sound was heard.   When we reached Dad, he didn’t look good.  Something was definitely wrong.  Mom called 911 and within minutes the paramedics were there working on him.  Their efforts were in vain.  My Dad’s lungs (and my world) had collapsed.  He was 30 years old.  Cause of death: Viral Pneumonia. 

Nothing can prepare you for such a moment, particularly when you are five.  No one in my life had ever died so I was pretty unfamiliar with the concept.  A young child is not supposed to bury a parent.  A son is not supposed to face this world without his father.  Moms are wonderful but a son needs his Daddy.  When a boy grows up without his dad, he doesn’t just feel sad – he feels lost.  Navigating the woods without a compass is dangerous.  Navigating this world without a parent is terrifying.  That is the card I was dealt and it has impacted my “game” in profound ways.

I mention this card of mine, not for sympathy, but as a point.  We ALL have received unwanted, even painful cards in our life.  It comes with the territory of living in a fallen world amidst fallen people.  The cards we receive are up to God.  What we do with them is up to us.  As for  me, this particular painful card taught me some valuable lessons about hands and the cards that are in them.

  • Cards are not randomly given.  They are tailor-made for you.    Some may think we live in a random world or that our planet is governed by chance and luck.  It is not.  Like it or not, everything happens for a reason, even if you never understand the reason this side of eternity.  The cards you receive (good and bad) are in your hand for a reason.  You were given your specific cards in this century in your country in your family for “such a time as this.”    
  • The cards can help you grow.   Some are given a disability card at birth.  Others are given a card of privilege.  Regardless, each card can help you grow in ways you cannot fully appreciate in the moment.  For most of us, we have to lose the cards in our hands before we ever truly realize just how important they really were.  Some of you lost your Queen and are now holding a Joker.   Others may have lost their King but are learning how to play with a Two of Hearts instead.   Whatever you possess, play it wisely.   Your future is in your hands, literally.
  • The cards you play often benefit others.  How many times do we have a card in our hand and the moment we lay it down, someone else lights up with excitement?  The cards we discarded as trash serve as someone else’s treasure.  To us, they were not wanted or valuable.  To another, they are precious and useful.  Though I never want to imply that relationships are disposable, sometimes it is important to lay down certain cards (people, jobs, etc) so that another can pick them up and benefit their life.   Even if you were the one discarded, you still possess value.  Just like a card, your value is intrinsic.  Just because one player doesn’t want you does not mean that others won’t.  And sometimes, it is the card that is discarded that ends up winning the game for those who pick it up.  In the game of cards, we all know this is true.  Many times we slowly and hesitatingly lay down a card fearful that someone else will pick it up and make us regret the decision.   The discarded card can benefit others.

What are the cards in your hand?  Have you looked at them lately and really studied them?  Have you thought about discarding a few?   Perhaps your game is stagnant because you are holding on to cards you shouldn’t?   Perhaps you need a few “newer” cards from the draw pile to help you move on in the game?   Or maybe you need to stop laying down face value cards and begin learning the true value of what you have?   Maybe if we look at our personal circumstances as the cards that life brings us, it will change our perspective on this game called “Life.”

I have an old friend who was diagnosed with cancer a few years back.   She was treated and the cancer was removed.  Soon after, she joined a cancer survivors support group and quickly realized that so many in the group lacked hope, peace, comfort.   She found herself being the salve for wounded people.  After weeks of being in this group and getting to know its members, she was struck with two eye-opening truths about her experience:

  1. It is not a group that anyone really wants to join.  The price of admission is cancer.
  2. She realized that her participation in that group had a profound impact on fellow survivors.  She had become a source of encouragement and hope to those around her.  Then the thought hit her, maybe cancer was given to her so that others could see how a Christian handles it.  

Too often, we make the assumption that the things placed in our path are there for us alone.  God, however, is a multi-dimensional God.   Though there is always something we can learn from the experience, perhaps sometimes we endure a trial so that others can learn from our response to it.   Sometimes the lessons may not even be for those on Earth, but perhaps for God’s heavenly audience.   Ask the angels what they learned about their Creator watching Job’s saga unfold before their eyes.  

What cards have you been dealt?   Death of a loved one?  Disease?  Disability?  Unemployment?  Flat tire?  Speeding ticket?   What lessons have you learned from it?   Who are you helping as a result?  You have your particular cards for a reason.   Make it your mission not to waste the cards or the lesson. 

“…and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.” (I Corinthians 1:4-5)

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Prayers for our children and why God doesn’t answer them

man-praying-on-one-kneeAs a communicator to youth, it is not uncommon to have a parent ask me to pray for their children.   Parenting, on its best day, is a daunting task.  As a result, all parents should seek Divine guidance for their children.  They should pray for them and with them and model for them what prayer is and how it is to be done (Matthew 6:9-13).   Good parenting is a most difficult task and acquiring the prayers of many on your behalf can only benefit everyone.  And yet, in spite of all the prayers I have heard many sincere Christian parents pray, I have sometimes wondered why these prayers so often seem to go unanswered.   If God commands us to pray (I Thessalonians 5:17) and tells us to bring all our cares to Him (I Peter 5:7) – then why does it seem that with our most sincere prayers about our most precious cares (our children) our many petitions seem to be ignored?    Scripture reveals at least ten reasons why God does not answer our prayers:

1)      We do not ask.

  • How often does God not answer our prayers simply because we have not asked Him to?   If we cannot motivate or humble ourselves to approach His throne and pray the prayers, why would God be motivated to answer on our behalf?  If we do not care enough to ask, we are showing God just how un-important that request really is to us.
  • “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.  Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?   If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)
  • You do not have because you do not ask.”  (James 4:2)

2)      Our prayers lack faith.

  • When you pray, do you really believe God will answer?  We must believe that God not only can – but will – answer our prayers according to His will.
  •  “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”  (Matthew 21:22)
  • “But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.  For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:6-8)

3)      We pray with wrong motives.

  • Think through your prayers and their motive.  God is just as concerned about our requests as He is with the heart of our requests.
  • “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men.   Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. ” And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. (Matthew 6:5, 7)
  • “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.”  (Matthew 23:14)
  • “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (James 4:3)

4)      Our requests are inappropriate.

  •  “James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.”  And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?”  They said to Him, “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.”   (Mark 10:35-37)

5)      Our requests are not within His will.

  • “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.”  (Luke 22:42)
  • ”Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you.”  (John 16:23)
  • “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.”       (I John 5:14-15)

6)      Our timing is different from His.

  • The story of Lazarus’ death and resurrection reveals to us that our timing is not God’s timing in regards to the answering of our prayers.  (John 11:1-45)

7)      A “NO” is in our spiritual best interest, whether we recognize that or not.

  • ”Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me–to keep me from exalting myself!  Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.   And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”  Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”  (II Corinthians 12:7-10)
  • Would Paul have learned to be “well content with weaknesses, insults, distresses, persecutions or difficulties” had the Lord honored his request to remove the thorn?    It was the thorn (the very thing he prayed to remove) that taught him about Christ’s strength in his weakness.

8)      He is testing our hearts.

  • I have learned that the quickest way for me to access the condition of my children’s heart is for me to say “No” to them.  How children respond to the “No’s” we give them reveals much more about their heart than one thousand “Yes’s”.    In the same way, God may often say “No” to us, simply to see if we trust Him, His way or His timing.   How do you respond to the “No’s” God gives you?  (Read Job chapter 1-2 for a biblical example on this).

9)      Our sin gets in the way.

  • Parent, what sins are keeping your prayers from being heard?   Just as you will not bless your children while they disobey you, so God will not answer your prayers if you have un-confessed sin in your life.
  • Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”  (James 5:16)

10)  We sabotage our own prayers.

  • Do not pray for your child’s wayward, disobedient heart and then shield them from (or remove altogether!) the weight of the consequences of their sin.   Too many parents (in the name of mercy, child-pleasing, etc) allow their children to escape the punishment of their sins which works against your prayers.
  • “and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,
    “MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD,
    NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.”  It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.  All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
      (Hebrews 12:5-11)
  • Perhaps the peaceful fruit of righteousness is missing from your children because you have blocked the Lord’s discipline in their lives?

One day, I had a parent call me about her wayward, teenage son.   She spent the majority of the time telling me how her son has little interest in spiritual things, doesn’t read his Bible and he never goes to church or youth group, though she encourages him to do so.   After 30 minutes of listening to this loving mother talk about her desires and prayers for her child, she made an interesting confession.  She does not read her Bible or attend church either.   Like mother, like son.   The fruit, as they say, does not fall far from the tree.

We should pray for our kids and then make sure we are living out those prayers in our own life.   Parenting is more caught than taught and though our prayers are important, our example can work against the most sincerely worded prayer.    Prayers are with our lips.  Practice is with our life.    Both need to match as our children tend to follow our ways over our words.

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The “Jerks” that grow us

What "Jerks" do when you're defusing a bomb.

What “Jerks” do when you’re defusing a bomb.

I just got off the phone with a jerk.  A self-righteous, condescending jerk.  I don’t talk with this person that often but when I do – it feels like finger nails down the chalkboard.   The sound of their voice irritates me.  Their intentionally chosen words reek of arrogance.  Even over the phone, you can feel the thick condescension.  This person doesn’t like me and they are not afraid to let me know it.   I was even reminded recently that I am a pain in their… um, neck.

Motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, says that there are only 6-7 jerks in the whole world.  Unfortunately, he says, they move around a lot.   

If we are honest, we all have a “Jerk” (or three) in our life.   Maybe it’s the guy at work.   The neighbor down the street.  The woman at church.  The distant relative.  For some, the “Jerk” might live closer to home in the form of a Spouse (or Ex), Child, Parent, In-law?

In some cases, we can just avoid them.  Other times, because of life circumstances (family affliliation, neighbors, work environments), we must interact with them, even daily, for years.  How do we handle it?  Sometimes the flesh takes over and we verbally “duke” it out.

Unfortunately, there are days when I am someone else’s “Jerk.”    I hate that thought but I’m pretty sure it’s true.  Somewhere, out there, some person is blogging about how they met me, a jerk.  Hopefully, they’ll realize I was having a bad day.  Or maybe they’ll just assume I was raised poorly.  Most likely, they will think that deep down, I am just a mean person.   Yea, that’s probably it.   I mean, isn’t that what we think about our “Jerks?”

Over the years, I have come to realize that having a “Jerk” in your life can be a blessing.   There are things that I have learned from these “Jerks” that I could not have learned from anyone else.   Whereas I’m tempted to ignore them, I actually realize (now) that I need them.  Whereas I’m tempted to silence their voice, I have come to appreciate (now) their opposing views.   Whereas I generally wish they would leave me alone, I (now) am glad they infiltrate my comfortable existence now and then.   Mostly then.

Here are a few things the “Jerks” have taught me.

  • I am just like them.   This is a hard truth to swallow but sometimes the reason I don’t like them is because I’m just like them.   There are parts of me that I do not like and though I  don’t think I’m like the “Jerk” in any way, when I stop to think about it – I’m more like them than I care to admit.  Their presence in my life forces me to address things I prefer not to address.   If their arrogance annoys me it is probably because the pride in my heart resonates with it.   If their impatience bothers me it is probably because I hate the impatience that lives within me towards others.   Their annoyance, some times, is merely a mirror to the things about me that I do not like.   We have a hard time staring at a mirror when we see things we do not like.  “Jerks” have a way of showing us our imperfections while we hate them for it.
  • Humility.   “Jerks” say things that we ultimately disagree with.   They say things that are perhaps mean or even untrue.  They may even say things simply to push our buttons because they love our reaction.   Even so, I have found there are two primary responses to a “Jerk’s” criticism.  The first, most natural response is “Go away” or “Shut up” or “You’re a jerk.”   Even if these responses do not leave my lips, that is what my heart is screaming at them.   But why do I want to react that way?   Because I am hurt.   And in my hurt, what do I do?  I treat them the way they are treating me.  In essence, I become like the “Jerk” I hate which only proves my first point, I’m not that much different than they are.   The second response to a “Jerk’s” criticism is very unnatural and quite opposite, it is one of humility.   “Thank you for helping me see a different side of that coin.”  Or “I appreciate that perspective.  I did not think about it like that.”  Regardless of the humble words used, it can produce a humble heart from where the words are drawn.   When I am being criticized by a Jerk, I often find the words of a 5th century Catholic Monk (St. Francis of Assissi) echoing in my brain, “Seek first to understand, then be understood.”  Seeking first to understand their perspective in this verbal lashing helps create a humble heart in me.   When my heart is humbled, my fists are lowered.  When my fists are lowered, my tongue tends to not be as sharp.   When my tongue has been dulled, my words become more kind.   Humility absorbs the blow.   “A soft answer turns away wrath.” (Proverbs 15:1)
  • Understanding & Patience.   I am painfully aware of how far I am from where I want to be.   Sometimes I do what I don’t want to do.   Sometimes I say what I don’t really want to say.  Sometimes I act in a way that is not consistent with how I really want to act.  I have some areas that I am trying to work on and really could use some patience from others as I work this stuff out.   When I encounter a “Jerk”, this thought often crosses my mind – “Be patient.”   Perhaps they are far from where they want to be too.   Perhaps they are saying or doing something (even to me) that they really don’t want to be saying or doing.   For whatever reason, I am bringing out a side in them that maybe they don’t like and what they could use is some understanding and patience from me.

I recently had two friends of mine leave my life because I was a “Jerk.”   One thought I had lied to them.   I did not.  The other thought I was judging them.   I was not.   But, looking at the situation from their perspective, I understand why they think those things.   Given their thought process (and past history with others), it makes sense why they thought I was being a “Jerk” to them.   In both cases, they have said hurtful and mean things to me.   In both cases, I have apologized and tried to fix their incorrect perceptions.  In both cases, they are still in the non-friend category.   I’m still a “Jerk” and it’s easier for them to keep me there.   Even so, in both cases I have tried to be understanding and patient – even leaving the door of friendship open for them to come through again.  It’s not likely.  I mean, who wants to be friends with a “Jerk?”  Such is the problem with being someone’s “Jerk.”   Even when you try not to be one, you can still become one to others.

Years ago, a  close friend of mine and I took a trip to Ecuador on a soccer missions trip.  During one of our practice days, guys on the team liked to play chess, a favorite game of mine.   Given that there were over 20 of us on the team, and only one board – we had to take turns playing this long game.   My friend Brady was in the middle of an intense match with another teammate when he left to run an errand that would take him several hours.   Seeing the board in mid-game but unattended was frustrating.  Others wanted to play but did not want to ruin their game.   It was then that we came up with a brilliant solution.  We carefully recorded where each piece was, leaving a detailed map, and then began a new game for ourselves.   When our game was complete, we would put their game back together and everyone would be happy.  Unfortunately, Brady returned before our game was completed.   When he saw that we had “ruined” his game, he was immediately angered.   To him, we were “Jerks” for disrespecting his game.   Instantly, he took our board and lifted it up causing pieces to go flying everywhere.   Stunned by his sudden “Jerk-like” actions, we protested and got into a verbal argument.   The mood was tense.   When I produced the drawing of his board, this former “Jerk” immediately became remorseful.   Instantly his demeanor changed and humility set in.  He had just realized what he had done.   Thinking we ruined his game, he ruined ours.   Our game was over but thanks to our detailed drawing, his game could continue as before.   That is, if I didn’t immediately rip the sheet up.  Which I did.  (We already established I’m a “Jerk”, right?)

Here’s the point.   Brady was (and still is 23 years later) one of my closest friends.  We are both Bible reading Christians, taught to “turn the other cheek.”   We both were on a Christian mission trip sharing the love of God with others.   Because of our age at that time, we were both considered leaders on this team and looked up to by our younger teammates.  And in spite of all of that, we both acted like children and behaved like “Jerks.”   Over a stupid game.

“Jerks” come in all shapes and sizes.  They can be the town prostitute or the local Pastor.   They can be called “Daughter” or “Dad.”   They can teach at a seminary or sit at a bar.  And that inner “Jerk” can come out at any moment when you least expect it (in traffic, long store lines, church, home or even during a harmless game of chess).   Sadly, we are all one word or deed away from being someone’s “Jerk” today.

When your “Jerk” calls today, how will you treat them?   When your nemesis arrives, how will you react to their fiery verbal darts?  It’s easy to treat people the way they deserve.  It takes more strength of character to love them in spite of themselves. 

Next time you encounter a “Jerk”, consider the actions of Christ.   While on the cross, He forgave His executioners.  While struggling to breathe, He pardoned those insulting Him.   While in excruciating pain, He prayed for His enemies, “Father, forgive (these “Jerks”) for they do not know what they are doing.” (Emphasis mine)for jerks blog

The following quote (below) has had a profound impact on my life and interactions with the “Jerks” I encounter.   These words pound my conscience even when my hands want to wring their necks.   May it challenge you as it has challenged me.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Jesus in Matthew 5:43-47)

Perhaps we can reduce the number of “Jerks” in this world, starting today, with the person in our own mirror?

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Why grocery stores are not men friendly

man-grocery-store-400x300Last night I went to the local grocery store for a few staple items, things like milk, bread & Doritos.   It took me 3 hours.

Needless to say, I really dislike trips to the grocery store.   I never need many items and it takes me about as long to shop for those items as it does for me to re-paint the house.

As I wander around in the grocery store’s version of purgatory, I have come to the realization that this place was not built for men.  Here are a few reasons why:

  1. The layout.   Most grocery stores have you walking right from the parking lot into the produce section.  Shocking as this may be, men do not prefer to pick up their brocoli first.  Or ever.  Men want soda, chips, beer, and pizza.  If grocery stores really wanted men to be there, they would put our items first, not make us wander around the labyrinth of aisles looking for them.
  2. The aisles.  When women were creating grocery stores, who decided what items would be grouped in a particular aisle?  Who decided the order the aisles would be in?   Why do they not have a map at the front door that makes everything more clear?   (For the record, men like maps – we just don’t want to have to ask someone for help reading one.)   Instead, I walk in with a small list of things to get and the next 3 hours are a scavenger hunt.  Where are the hot dogs?  Why are the buns half a mile away from them?  If you could watch me on film, you would see that I am in every aisle about 4 times – carefully looking up and down every part of it – looking for my item, otherwise known as Waldo.
  3. The shopping cart.   There is absolutely no way to push a shopping cart around and retain any level of cool.  Given that 9 out of 10 shopping carts have a rogue wheel that cause them to swerve in the aisle, it is an impossible machine to tame.  Besides, it is a well-known fact that men like to ride on things, not push them around.  The ride-on mower is “exhibit A” for this argument.  If a woman ever invents a ride-on shopping cart (or vacuum cleaner), men would instantly be interested in taking over these duties.  Just a suggestion.
  4. Too many things to kill.   Since caveman times, men were known as hunters and women were gatherers.  Following our instincts, most men and women treat all forms of shopping the same way.  Men enter, focus on the prey, kill and leave with it in hand.  By contrast, women enter, look at everything, touch everything, and come home with 37 bags of groceries.  For a man to hunt one item at a store is easy.  They are good at that.  But give a man a list of 10 items and 4 will be the wrong size, 3 will be the wrong brand and the other 6 will be stuff he wanted, not on the list.  Frankly, it’s unrealistic for men to remember long orders like, “Pick up chips, soda, beer, milk, bread, chicken, pizza, napkins, sugar, cheese, etc.”   All we hear is “blah, blah, chips, soda, beer, blah,  blah, blah, pizza, words, words, words, etc.”
  5. The store temperature.   It could be the dead of winter in Alaska.  You could be in the middle of Hell in the middle of July.  It doesn’t matter – the grocery store temperature will feel like 30 below zero.   I am always freezing when I am in there.  How can I expect to make a decision on what can of tuna fish to buy when my teeth are chattering?   How can I possibly focus on my coupon savings when I’m trying to cuddle with the man in the same aisle for survival?   It’s well documented, the longer you stay in a store – the more you will buy.  If they want men to stay in the store longer, they need to raise the temperature to at least the low teens or provide NorthFace thermal underwear and a ski mask.
  6. The lack of other men.   As you might expect, 90% of the shoppers are female.  Inevitably, I will walk down an aisle and see an experienced shopper there.  This shopper, always a woman, has an intimidating amount of groceries in her cart.  As I look at her pile of groceries, I can’t help but wonder how long she has been here.   Given that it takes me 3 hours to pick up six items, she has to have been here for weeks.  I wonder if her kids miss her.  Or how hungry her husband must be.  On the rare occasion that I do see another man, I usually give him a knowing nod that is the equivalent of “I got your back.”   It’s like he’s my battle buddy.  Except we are not in battle and he’s not my buddy.  Other than that, it’s just like that.
  7. The lack of help.   Doesn’t anyone notice that I’ve been in the store for 3  hours?  Isn’t someone watching the security camera wondering why I’ve been circling Aisle 3 for the last 45 minutes?  Aren’t there supposed to be employees that are available to help those with a confused look on their face?  And why do the experienced shoppers (aka women) watch us men helplessly wander instead of trying to assist?  If the roles were reversed (let’s say at Lowes) both men and store employees would go out of their way to help our confused/lost female counterparts.   When I finally reach the check out counter, (disheveled and exhausted) and the lady asks, “Did you find everything ok?” – I just want to cry.
  8. The abundance of options.   Why are there so many choices out there?  How many different brands of cat food companies are there?  How many different flavors of cat food does a cat really need?  Before grocery stores were invented, cats ate mice.  Now, cats have more options than most high school cafeterias.  Fortunately, I don’t buy cat food but the human food choices are no easier.  How can I possibly know what to buy with all of those options?   Am I shopping price alone or do I need to look for sodium percentages?   What about calories?   And how much saturated fat is there?   Shopping time would be reduced in half if they just had two options per food item.  Big or small.  Cheap or fancy.  Healthy or tasty.  I feel like using a lifeline to call a nutritionist just to buy a box of cereal.   It’s utterly exhausting.
  9. Self-check out.  Self check-out is a brilliant concept.  Instead of standing in a 45 minute line, the self-check out option makes you feel like you control your destiny… or at least have some control over your schedule.   But is it really any quicker?   For starters, I can never seem to find the bar code for the machine to read.   Then, I’ll want to scan bananas, except there is no bar code for them so you have to weigh them.   Apparently, the scale takes a few hours to stop shaking from the last piece of fruit that was on it.   Of course, as soon as I begin my self-check out experience, a line immediately forms behind me.   I now feel pressure to scan quicker, bag quicker, pay quicker.   Paying quicker is never an option though and whatever you do, never pay with cash.  You will stand there forever trying to get the machine to accept your wrinkly bill as if you are presenting a peace-offering to an Egyptian god.   The self-check out money god seems to prefer plastic. 

If loneliness doesn’t drive single men into a relationship, the grocery store certainly will.  No man in his right mind can enjoy this experience on their own.  Other than the sample food kiosks where kind older people prepare food and let you sample it, there is little appeal to the grocery store for men.  

Call me when the ride-on grocery cart is invented.  Until then, I’m going to pray that God sends me a bird to feed me as He did the prophet Elijah.  Now THAT is a great way to get your food!

“Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan.  You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.   So he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.”  (I Kings 17:2-6)

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Bingo the Monkey – a new children’s book

Bingo

Bingo

Every week I drive past my local Barnes & Nobles located located down the street from my house.  Every time I drive by, my seven-year old expresses an interest to go in.  Today, we carved out some time to see what was new.   Upon entering the store, I was immediately escorted into the children’s section by my little eager reader.  He loves going there.   As we walked through the aisles in the children’s section, his eye went to several books he was quite familiar with.  I had read them to him dozens of times during his most formative years. 

Books like:

  • “The Going To Bed Book” by Sandra Boynton. 
  • “Good Night, Gorilla” by Peggy Rathmann.
  • “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein.
  • “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle.
  • “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” by Laura Joffe Numeroff.

The list goes on and on.   He grabbed every one with familiar excitement as he exclaimed things like, “I remember this one!” or “Dad, we have this one at home!”  

My bedtime routine with my son, Andrew - pictured here at age 3.

My bedtime routine with my son, Andrew – pictured here at age 3.

Instantly, we were transported back in time, on the bed of nostalgia, him snuggled in front of me, as I read that evenings bed time story. 

Bedtime stories are a favorite past-time for every parent and child.  Not only does it provide the foundation for reading and lay the cornerstone of learning, it’s a wonderfully bonding exercise between parent and child.   I miss those days.  My older children (teenagers) just don’t sit on my lap quite as much anymore.   The books they read don’t have pictures in them either.  And none of them rhyme.   Also, their books are called videos.  

How excited I was to learn of a new book about to hit the market.  The book has everything that makes a children’s book a success:  A cute character.  An interesting story line that children can relate to.  A great moral lesson.  Suspense.  Engaging illustrations.  It even rhymes like a Dr. Seuss book.

Unlike every other book  I have ever read with my children, this one is intensely personal for me.   Whereas every other book I have read I bought at the store, this one was sent to me directly by the author.  Whereas the other books were read after they were published, I read this one beforehand.   Whereas other books were read after dozens of others recommended them to me, this one I got to read before the masses.   Such is the advantage when the author of the next great children’s book happens to be your brother.

I thought I would take this opportunity to introduce my loyal readers to this great book and share how you can get a copy of it.  For those of you who would like to purchase it, my brother (Matt) has graciously offered to give my global audience a discount.   More details on that to come.

The following link will provide more information about the book, my brother and what it is about.  Also an artist, the book is fully illustrated by Matt and includes a video trailer (created by my sister) for you to see.   He has decided to utilize the help of a creative website to help him launch it.  Just 24 hours in, it has already proven to be a good decision.

Matt also created a Facebook page for this book and welcomes more people to “like” it.   The link to that page is here: https://www.facebook.com/#!/BingoTheMonkey

If you still read to your children, consider this book for your personal library.  If you have small children in your life (Nieces, nephews, cousins, siblings, grandchildren) consider this for their next birthday.   If you are affiliated with an elementary school, perhaps your school library would like to put this on their shelf?  The story of Bingo the Monkey has a timeless message that both kids and parents will love!

Regardless, keep reading to your children.   The lessons they learn from the pages of these books stay with them for life and the memories stay with you forever, long after they’ve left your lap.

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A real man: What women want to find and boys want to be.

Every boy growing up learns how to be a man from one of three places;

  1. his own father’s example (good or bad),
  2. other men he knows & sees and
  3. from the constant cultural impressions on his impressionable life.  

If a boy grows up with an absentee or abusive father, his view of manhood can be similarly shaped.  If a boy has access to Uncles or coaches or teachers that are caring, he is taught that men should act likewise.  If he is heavily influenced by Hollywood’s heroes, a small lad might think that womanizing or fighting or breaking the law is what a real man does.  Even men on powerful platforms (politicians, athletes, musicians) can model what men are supposed to say or do. 

By the time a boy is in his teens, the messages are mixed and can be quite confusing.  From their perspective – “Dad says one thing, Uncle Ricky says another and my favorite athlete handles situations completely different from my teacher.  Do real men lie or tell the truth?  Do they cheat or are they supposed to be faithful?   Do they work hard or are they lazy?  Are they tough or are they allowed to cry?”  These thoughts bounce around a boy’s brain as he tries to figure out what a real man is supposed to look like.  By the time a boy is ten, he has seen the full range of male behavior; the good the bad and the ugly – all from adults who are supposed to know better. 

But, what is a real man?   What does he look like?   It’s a question that begs an answer.  It’s an answer that every boy yearns to learn.  And it’s a question whose answer, on a good day, feels largely subjective.  

From the dozen of men in my life that have left an imprint on my image of manhood (good and bad), I have gathered that a “real man” has the following attributes.  Granted, very few men possess all the traits listed below at the same time.  Having said that, every man should die trying, not only for their own benefit but because somewhere out there a little boy is looking up to them wondering if they are a real man too.    

I have the scary privilege of raising two boys in this testosterone deficient world.   Though I am not their only male example (Thank God!), I am a primary one and much of what they glean about manhood will come from my playbook.  Like every man on the planet, my boys have seen both a good and bad example from my life.  The older I get, the more committed I become to improving that example.  As I feel their little eyes on me, I am trying to be more consistent with the message I communicate to them.   Trying to get my life to match my lips.

This sculpture masterpiece of the Renaissance was created by the Italian artist Michelangelo.  The statue represents the Biblical hero David and took him over 2 years to complete.

This sculpture masterpiece of the Renaissance was created by the Italian artist Michelangelo. The statue represents the Biblical hero David and took him over 2 years to complete.

In 1464 an artist by the name of Agostino was commissioned to create a statue of the biblical king, David.  A block of marble was provided and Agostino chiseled the legs, feet & torso.  For reasons  unknown, the project was halted and the half-finished sculpture sat untouched, exposed to the elements for the next 35 years.  In 1501, another artist was given the contract to continue the work.  In the early hours of September 13th, a twenty-six year old artist named Michelangelo began to chisel an enormous clump of rock.  Over the next two years, Michelangelo worked diligently and finally completed one of the greatest pieces of art the world has ever known. 

As every woman will attest, every man begins like that clump of stone.   Some of us stay like that the rest of our lives.  Others have some work done on them (ex. legs, feet and torso) and then sit dormant for years.   Some of us, after an extended season of inactivity, will have someone enter our lives and (like Michelangelo) begin to sculpt the crude marble into a work of art.  The point is, we are all a work in progress.  Some are further along than others but all of us need the touch of a divine artist to finish the commissioned work.  By God’s grace, even I will one day become the man He’s calling me to be.   By God’s grace, the men in your life will too.   Until then, we all need more time with the Artist and His chisel.

What does a real man look like?  This list is a good start.

  • A real man keeps his word, even when it hurts.
  • A real man chooses his words carefully.
  • A real man builds up others.
  • A real man always tells the truth.
  • A real man controls his tongue.
  • A real man encourages others.
  • A real man faces his problems.
  • A real man owns up to his mistakes.
  • A real man can admit his wrongs.
  • A real man faces consequences.
  • A real man can ask for forgiveness when he is wrong.
  • A real man can confront wrong.
  • A real man can show his emotions and share his feelings.
  • A real man is patient with others.
  • A real man is not easily offended.
  • A real man can handle criticism.
  • A real man treats others with respect, especially his elders, women, children and animals.
  • A real man never hits a woman.
  • A real man always looks out for the interest of others.
  • A real man sacrifices for those he loves.
  • A real man protects his family.
  • A real man loves God.
  • A real man honors his parents.
  • A real man loves his wife.
  • A real man controls his temper.
  • A real man loves his children and is an active Dad.
  • A real man is a servant leader.
  • A real man provides for his family.
  • A real man takes care of his house.
  • A real man is a good steward of what has been given to him.
  • A real man is a model citizen.
  • A real man is honest.
  • A real man leads by example.
  • A real man has a strong work ethic.
  • A real man is responsible & dependable.
  • A real man never gives up.
  • A real man is faithful.
  • A real man always does the right thing.
  • A real man is a man of character and integrity.
  • A real man never runs from problems.
  • A real man is confident enough to wear pink.
  • A real man does not do drugs.
  • A real man does not abuse people or substances.
  • A real man can be trusted.
  • A real man is selfless.
  • A real man is under authority and respects authority.

Know any real men in your life?   Becoming one is more caught than taught.   Send them this link and thank them for their example.  Better yet, thank the artists that helped them get there.  

  • “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)
  • “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love.”  (I Corinthians 16:13-14)
  • “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
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Trusting a total stranger… totally

map of philadelphiaA few years ago, for my Mom’s 50th birthday, I took her to a musical concert in center city Philadelphia.   If you know downtown Philadelphia, it is a maze of one way streets.  It didn’t take me long to become “misplaced” in this big city at night.   I seemed to be driving in circles and struggled to find our destination. 

My Mom, being a natural born worrier, was convinced we were going to get carjacked.  Considering the murder rate in the “City of Brotherly Love”, car jacking would have been welcomed.  The only thing worse than being carjacked at night in Philadelphia is being carjacked at night in Philadelphia with your Mother.  That’s just embarrassing.  At any rate, we were sufficiently lost, running late and needed to find our way to the concert.  Since this was before the days of GPS and smart phone navigation apps, all I had was a AAA fold out map and my concerned mother as the co-pilot.  Being that my Mom had never driven in Philadelphia or used maps or enjoyed driving at night or enjoyed being in the most dangerous section of a dangerous city, she was not much help in the fetal position – hyperventilating on the floor of the car.  Time was running out and I knew I had to do something that would go against every male fiber in my being – ask for directions.  

Being evening, my options were limited.   I could either ask the group of men talking in the middle of the street or the lovely young lady on the opposite street corner.   My Mom was convinced the group of men were part of a gang and interested in taking our car.   Being her birthday, I obliged her fears and headed towards the woman.   As I slowed down, she approached my car with a strange familiarity.  Immediately, I realized two things.  First, this was no ordinary woman.  By all appearances, she was an employee in the world’s oldest profession.  Secondly, she knew the city streets well.  

My Mom was aghast.
Mom: “You can’t stop here. You can’t talk to her! Do you know what she does for a living?”
Me: “Yes, I know EXACTLY what she does for a living and no one knows these streets better than her.”

After talking to my female GPS friend, I got the directions and we were on our way.

At some point in time, we have all been in foreign cities (or cities foreign to us) and have gotten lost.  Being lost on unfamiliar turf, sometimes the only way to our destination is to ask a local.  After all, no one knows the area better.   We approach with humility, ask for directions and do exactly as they say, particularly if they seem confident in their response.

But, how do we know they are really a local?  How do we know they are telling the truth?  How do we know the people we ask really know where we are trying to go?  

Occasionally, while in a foreign city, another traveler will approach me (assuming I am a local) and ask me for directions.  To be honest, before I tell them I am from out of town as well, I have a very sinister thought.  Having no idea where they want to go, there is a tiny evil twin inside of me that wants to start giving very specific, clear directions and see if they believe me.

“Oh sure.  I know exactly where you need to go.   You want to take a right at the light.  Turn left onto Main Street.  Go past the bank and take another right at the school.   Go 1.3 miles and your destination is on the left.”  

For all they know, I could be sending them in the opposite direction or directly to the local graveyard.   For all I know, I may have just given them directions into a dangerous, car-jacking part of town. 

Likewise, we have all flown in an airplane.  We plan our trip, buy our ticket, get to our gate, board our plane and walk right by the cockpit without knowing the pilot’s name, his credentials or if he is even sober.  How do we know he is really a pilot?   Did he graduate from airline pilot school with straight A’s or is this guy the class clown who barely passed?  Does he even know where he is going?

The girl giving directions.  The man flying our plane.  The doctor in surgery.  The local mechanic.   Complete strangers to us and we trust them.  We trust them implicitly, without hesitation.

If we can trust these people with directions or even our very lives, why do we struggle trusting the God of creation?

God has never forgotten to rise the sun.  He has never been late on a sunset.  He keeps the stars in place and causes planets to orbit without collision.  He provides rain for the grass blade and food for the ant.  He knows when a sparrow falls to the ground and He’s counted the number of hairs on your head.  He gives what is good to those who ask Him and through “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).  If that were not enough, He loves us more than we can even love ourselves.  So much, that He died in our place so that we can live in His.

Next time you ask for directions, be reminded of who you are trusting.  Next time you board a plane, remember that your life is in the hands of a total stranger.  They don’t know your name.  They don’t care about your day.   But you trust them without blinking.  A total stranger.   We trust an unknown stranger before we trust the God who knows us.  The truth is, God is a stranger to those who do not trust Him.

Is He a stranger to you?

“And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6)

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No Pain, No Gain

A few years ago I was part of a small group discussion.  Around the room were 12 people, all from my church, ranging in age from late 20’s to mid 60’s.  Although I had a friendship with every person present, most in the room did not know each other. Because of this, I asked each person to introduce themselves and share how they became a Christian, the common denominator of our lives.  Hearing how people come to faith in Christ is always an interesting exercise.

As the folks went around the room, a common theme emerged.

  • One came to Christ when her 19-year-old son was killed in an automobile “wreck”.   She went on to tell us how there are no “accidents” in God’s world.
  • One became a Christian via the example & death of his Grandmother.
  • One believed after watching her uncle die of cancer.
  • Another came to faith after losing his family because of his successful business and long hours away from home.
  • Another came to Christ because of a divorce.
  • A broken engagement devastated another into the arms of God.
  • As for me, my father’s sudden death (when I was 5) was instrumental in helping me recognize my need for God.

As they shared their story, I was amazed at the number of people who came to God because of a tragedy or loss.  It reminded me of the famous quote credited to C.S. Lewis, “God whispers in our pleasure but shouts in our pain.” Apparently, we listen more clearly when pain is involved.

As I look through the Scriptures, I see a similar pattern.

  • The Apostle Paul came to Christ after being blind for 3 days (Acts 9).
  • King Nebuchadnezzar repented after being humiliated by God in front of his nation (Daniel 3).
  • The prophet Jonah finally obeyed God’s voice after experiencing three life-threatening days in the belly of a fish.  (Jonah 3)
  • The thief on the cross gave his life to Christ while he was being executed (Luke 23).
  • The woman at the well came to Christ after her embarrassing lifestyle was revealed (John 4).
  • Even Pharaoh bent his knee to God (although briefly) when he lost his firstborn son (Exodus 11).

None of the people listed above would have submitted to God without some sort of painful experience.

Do not underestimate the power of pain.  Though we would not naturally choose the painful path, oftentimes it is the only way some are aware of God’s presence.  The thing we try to avoid the most seems to be the thing God uses most often to draw our attention to Him.

We tend to view pain as bad because it hurts but God seems to view pain as beneficial because of what it produces in our lives.  At first glance, one might be tempted to view God as mean or unloving or even cruel for causing or allowing pain in our lives.  But think for a moment about the positive aspects of pain:

  • Without pain, you would not know you have a splinter that could cause a life-threatening infection.
  • Without pain, you would not be able to tell you were on fire – permanently damaging your skin.
  • Without pain, you would not realize your urgent need to see a doctor.
  • Without pain, you would not realize your current behavior is hurting those around you. 
  • Without pain, you would not fully appreciate what it means to feel good.

The knowledge and experience of pain not only helps prolong your life but it also helps you appreciate (more fully) the presence of pleasure.  Sunny days are more appreciated after a week of rain.  We tend to be more grateful for the warmth of Spring because it follows a cold Winter.   As a friend recently reminded me, “You have to put up with rain if you want a rainbow.

For those who have ever lifted weights, you know what I’m talking about.  When weight lifting, it is only when your muscle begins to hurt that you are truly building the muscle. All the work prior to the pain, was simply the precursor to the growth. Once you feel the pain in your muscle, that is when you must continue in order to grow like you desire.  There is a lot of truth to the adage, “No pain, no Gain“.

I am not suggesting that we should necessarily aim for pain in our personal lives.  I am not in support of joining the local sado-maschist group in your community or look for ways to get hurt.  But I am suggesting to view pain from a different perspective, next time it invades your life.

Remember, it was Joseph who reminded his brothers (after they left him for dead in a well and then sold him to Egypt) that what they “intended for harm, God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)

I can’t tell you the number of times that I have experienced pain in my life.  Sometimes, it seems that pain is the default setting in my life.  As I am going through it, I hate every minute of it.  I look for ways to end it.   I do what I can to minimize it.  I desperately want to be on the other side of it.   That is human nature.   Days, weeks, months or years later – when I reflect on that painful experience, I almost always see good that came out of it.   Whether it was a physical pain or even an emotional or relational pain, I am able to see how that particular experience, though painful, helped me grow as a result. 

Cognitively, I realize pain’s benefit.  In spite of that recognition, I still do what I can to avoid it.  And that is why God, as a loving Father, continues to allow us to experience it because He knows it is often the ONLY way we’ll grow.   Fortunately for us, God isn’t interested in our happiness as much as He is interested in our holiness.  He’s cares more about our growth than He does our games.   He loves us too much to let us be comfortable and stagnant.   His goal is to grow us to maturity, not let us remain in our childish ways.  We can cry, complain and stomp our feet at Him, it doesn’t matter.  He knows how to grow us and nothing will keep Him from it, even our tears.  

Speaking of tears, even God’s own son, asked for another option besides the excruciatingly painful cross.  Jesus’ wasn’t as concerned about the physical pain of crucifixion as He was about the relational pain of separation.   God called Him to die for His people and the only way it would “work” was through the painful experience of the cross.   For the first time ever, the Son would be separated from the Father.  They had only ever enjoyed blissful communion with each other and now Jesus was about to experience blistering condemnation.  It would literally kill Him.  The cross was the only way for a righteous Judge to pardon His people’s crimes.  The death of a sinless Savior would be the only payment accepted.   Jesus could cry all He wanted, pain was inevitable and God Himself would not stop it from coming – even with His Son.   Some misinterpret this as proof that God is unloving.  If the avoidance of pain was God’s primary goal, then yes, God would be unloving to put His Son through such agony.  But if God had a greater goal that could only be accomplished with pain, greater love has never been shown.   The pain proves it.

The writer of Hebrews puts it into perspective, “Although Jesus was a son, He learned obedience from what He suffered.” (5:8)

Jesus’ brother, James, understood the positives of pain when he wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

What’s your perspective on the pain in your life?

  • Instead of focusing on your painful experience, perhaps God is using it to save/teach many lives through you.
  • Instead of complaining how much something hurts you, recognize that maybe God is trying to teach you obedience.
  • Instead of throwing yourself a pity party, be thankful that He can use such trials to give you a more mature faith.
  • Perhaps you need an injection of gratefulness and the only way to receive it is through the needle of pain.

Pain is a part of our lives.   For most of us, it is the only way we grow.

Remember, no pain, no gain – even spiritually.

no pain, no gain

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Rites of Passage – From Boys to Men

knighthoodI was looking at my 14-year-old son this weekend.  It was the kind of look a parent occasionally gives when they are “soaking in” the gift before them.  I was having a flashback to when he was a baby.  Then I recalled a funny memory when he was a toddler.  Today, he is a freshman in high school, by all definitions, a teenager.  And then my brain started to go to the future.  In four years, he’ll be in college or in the work force.  And then it hit me.  The boy before me will one day (soon) become a man.  But when?   How?  What do I need to do to help him transform?  Or am I already doing it?   Is there a class he should sign up for?   Is there a test to take?  Is there a certificate I can print out?   If you make a boy with “snips and snails and puppy dog tails”, how do you make a man?

In some cultures, there is a specific rite of passage that signifies when this change occurs.

  • For a Jew, a Bah Mitzvah ceremony at age 13 would be the clear rite of passage into adulthood.  
  • Among the cattle herding Barabaig culture of East Africa, their rite of passage is a bit more difficult.  The boys’ heads are shaved and their foreheads are cut with three deep horizontal incisions that go down to the bone and extend from ear to ear.  This mark leaves permanent scars that identify a male as having received “gar.”  Sometimes, the incisions are deep enough to show up on the skulls.
  • Among the Luiseño Indians, boys have to lay on red ant mounds and not cry out from pain as they are repeatedly bitten over long periods of time. They were also given toloache, a powerful hallucinogenic drug that made them ill and apparently sometimes caused their death.
  • Among some Australian Aborigine societies, a boy would have several of his incisor teeth knocked out with a sharp rock by the adult men who were instructing him in the duties and obligations of manhood and the secrets of their religion.

Most of these rite of passage rituals were intended to be painful in order to increase the importance of the transition to adulthood.  If that is the ticket to manhood today, my son might prefer to remain a boy.  After all the money spent on braces, I’m grateful I am not an Australian Aborigine.    

In America, our rite of passage is not so clear.  When does a boy become a man in the land of the free?   When he first shaves the whiskers off his chin?   When he can drive?  When he can vote?  His first real job?  When he has his own checking account?  College graduation?  Marriage?  Sadly, even after some of these landmarks have been passed, many males are still only bigger boys.   In spite of turning 16 or 18 or 21, many males are no closer to manhood simply because they are older.  Regardless of achieving certain cultural milestones (even marriage!), many still act like selfish boys nowhere close to the standard of manhood required for such an endeavor.

What is God’s rite of passage into manhood?  How does God grow a boy into a man?  Apparently, through trials of faith.  Knowing God, this should make sense.  Humans are always focused on the physical, while God is infatuated with the spiritual.  We are focused on the flesh, while God is all about the spirit.  As God reminded the prophet Samuel, “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7) 

In the book of Daniel (chapter one), you find the story of 3 Jewish boys better known by their pagan names; Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego.  As Jewish exiles in captivity in Babylon, they are ordered by the King to study in the palace.  They were specifically chosen because of their age and special characteristics.  Before chapter one is over, God refers to them as “youths” on four separate occasions.  The implication is clear, God considered them boys. 

While they were at the palace, the “king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table.”  Though the food was fit for a king, it was not fit for a practicing Jew and the dietary restrictions placed on them by the Law of Moses.  Because of this, “Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.  Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other youth your age?  The king would then have my head because of you.”

Daniel then said to the guard, “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the youths who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.”  So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.

At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the youths who ate the royal food.  So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.

To these four youths God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.

God, the king, even Daniel agreed with the assessment – they are mere boys.

In chapter 3, King Nebuchadnezzar had made a golden statue (90 feet tall x 9 feet wide) for the entire nation to worship.  At the appointed time, on a musical cue, everyone was to bow down and worship the idol. Those who refused to bow were to be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace.  The musical cue was given and out of an entire nation, apparently only 3 were left standing; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  In spite of their tender age and lacking adult role models, these devout Jewish boys refused to bow to any god but their own.

The boys who chose to honor God with their diet were equally committed to honoring God with their feet.  Their decision to stand was clearly life threatening. 

  • Within minutes, these defiant boys would be identified.  Within minutes so would their faith. 
  • Moments earlier, they blended in with the crowd.   Moments later, they stood out from it. 
  • Their bodies looked like that of a boy.  Their spirit was that of a man. 
  • Their age was that of a child.  Their faith was that of an adult. 

Their rite of passage into manhood had begun.  Notice the change of description God gives boys who exercise such faith.  

  • Nebuchadnezzar was told of their civil disobedience, “These men , O king, have disregarded you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.
  • Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and anger gave orders to bring Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego; then these men were brought before the king.”

Boys would “cower” before a king.  Men will not.  As the King interrogated them about their decision to stand, he gave them one more opportunity to recant their defiant decision.   His satanic threat could not be missed.  His tone could not be more serious.  His intimidation could not be more real, Now when you hear the sound of the music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”

Their response is as impressive as it is unflinching, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.   If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Threats can intimidate a fearful boy.  It does not move a man a faith.  In spite of a private audience with an enraged dictator, they trusted God with the results. 

Their manhood is further etched in Scripture, “Then these men were tied up in their trousers, their coats, their caps and their other clothes, and were cast into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire.  But these three men , Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, fell into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire still tied up. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, “Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?” They replied to the king, “Certainly, O king.” He said, “Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!  The satraps, the prefects, the governors and the king’s high officials gathered around and saw in regard to these men that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had the smell of fire even come upon them.”

Before the testing of their faith, they were boys.  Afterward, they were regarded as men. 

Boys, have you passed through God’s rite of passage yet?   Apparently it is not an age requirement or the ability to jump over some cultural milestone.  It seems to have less to do with your body and more to do with your spirit.  In God’s economy, it seems to be less physical and more spiritual.  If that is true, how old are you really?   By human standards, you may be 14 – but would God consider you a man of faith?   By a human calendar the culture may say you are a man – but are you so in God’s eyes?

Remember, we are to have a child-like faith, not a childish one. (Matthew 18:3-5)   Just like in our physical world, God’s goal is maturity… in faith.  This was Paul’s frustration with the church in Corinth when he wrote, “I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly — mere infants in Christ.  I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?”  (I Corinthians 3:1-3)

God is looking to change boys into men.  Unfortunately, too many boys have too few men to look to as guides.  Too many boys remain boys far too long in our current culture.  Too many men look to an incorrect standard to measure their masculinity.  Sadly, we have somehow equated manhood with success or sexual prowess when God appears to measure it via spiritual maturity.

Adult, how old are you really – in God’s eyes?   You might be an adult in your body but are you really one in your spirit?

At age twelve we are told that “Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” (Luke 2:52)

The Apostle Paul declared, “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.” (I Corinthians 13:11)

As I groom my son to become a man one day, I’m tempted to take him fishing.  Or hunting.  Or show him how to shoot a gun.  Or use a hammer.   Or change the oil.  Or rotate the car tires.   All good things for men to know.   But without passing the baton of my faith, what have I really given him?  

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Lying, wrestling and the limp to come

lance-armstrong-oprah_510x289On August 31st of last year, I wrote a post about the controversy surrounding Lance Armstrong and the allegations that he had taken “performance enhancing drugs.” Towards the end of that article I made a prophetic prediction, “One day (soon) we will know whether Lance’s accomplishment was a true physical feat or a fraud.”

That “one day” is now upon us.   The feat turned out to be the fraud.

Lance has finally “come clean” – admitting to doping and by default, lying about his past.  It does not appear that anyone is too surprised at the admission.  What is shocking is the degree of deception and the years of passionate denials.  The dust has now settled and we find Lance has lost the only thing he really had left to cling to; his word.   That, by the way, is now considered worthless.  Such is the consequence of serial lying.

Sadly, it seems to be a common occurrence these days.  A foul is committed and the person under scrutiny declares their innocence on national television.  As a nation, we want to believe them.  We hope they were wrongly accused.  We wish the evidence was less certain.  We struggle with the dichotomy between their words of innocence and the damning facts in hand.  Even though their denials often go against evidence and common sense, we still believe – hoping against hope.   Lance officially joins a growing, infamous group of deceivers:

  • For those of us old enough to remember, we flashback to a former sitting President declaring his innocence with all sincerity about the extra-marital relationship he didn’t have.  Lies.
  • We recall an emotional husband declaring his innocence with all sincerity about his wife and unborn child and how they went missing.  Lies.
  • With disgust, we remember a prominent football coach who declared his innocence with all sincerity and what didn’t happen with boys in the locker room.  Lies.

Our country’s legal system was based upon the assumption that everyone would be considered “innocent until proven guilty.”   It’s becoming harder and harder to maintain that assumption.  You hate to doubt every person who ever denies an allegation but we have seen too many people deny too many things too many times to give us hope that anyone under suspicion is telling the truth anymore.  The more sincere someone is in their denial the more cynical we can become.  Sincerity, it turns out, is an irrelevant indicator of truth – even if it is heart-felt and convincing.

The following poem reveals that sincerity, though important, just isn’t enough.

“Charlie was a Chemist but Charlie is no more for what Charlie thought was H2O was really H2SO4.”

Charlie can sincerely believe the liquid in the test tube is water.  His sincerity does not change the fact that he is performing a lab experiment with sulfuric acid.

Many questions abound after the truth rises to the surface.  Too often, we never get straight answers to these questions.   Concerning Lance, we all want to know why?   Why he lied is obvious but why did he finally come clean?  Why did he come clean now and not in the beginning or during his testimony under oath?   Why did he lie for so long?   Why did he try to deceive everyone at every level, even attacking his accusers now proved justified in their accusations?   More importantly, can he ever be trusted again?

It’s easy to villianize Lance (and others like him) in the media.  We tend to enjoy sitting on our moral high horse and judge the poor decisions of the rich and famous.  But truth be told, the only difference between Lance and me or you is that he is rich and famous.  Our heart is just as likely to be led astray by fame, fortune and world championships as anyone else.  One man is tempted to abuse drugs while another man is tempted to abuse children.  One woman might steal clothes while another prefers to steal husbands.  Granted, the consequences to some sins are very different and more severe, but the capacity for wrong exists in all people.

This was Jesus’ point when the Scribes & Pharisees (religious leaders of His day) brought a woman caught in the act of adultery to Him (John 8).  The Law stated that she should be stoned (to death) for her sin.  Jesus saw the problem with their approach immediately.  None of these religious leaders were in a moral position to judge this sinful woman.  None of them (priest and prostitute alike) are worthy to throw a stone at anyone.  Jesus gave them permission to stone her… under one condition, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Isn’t that the heart of the issue? 

Unfortunately, we have not seen the last of duplicitous divas.  In a few months, we will forget about Lance as the next celebrity will shock us with his/her tales of living a double life.  Another salacious story will grab our attention.  Another tale of deception will captivate our minds and appease our lust for sensational news.  Hollywood will capitalize on the story for their next movie much like I have used it as fodder for this blog (Sorry Jim!).  Deception will continue to rear its ugly head and only the super hero of truth can defeat it.  Truth will always beat a lie even if it does take awhile to pin it to the mat.

Truth wrestling deception turns out to be a fitting analogy.  In the Old Testament, Jacob (whose name means deceiver) had been living up to his name. After deceiving his father and stealing his eldest brother’s birthright blessing (Genesis 27), Jacob was on the run – from his brother and from living a truthful life.  By chapter 32, we find that Jacob was “left alone.” That is where those who walk the road of deception eventually find themselves, alone.  Mysteriously, a “man” begins to wrestle with him until daybreak.  Wrestling a total stranger is a strange thing to do at any hour of the day.  But this match began in the middle of the night, certainly an odd time to wrestle anyone.  The writer of Genesis identifies the mysterious wrestler as none other than God Himself.

As the deceiver wrestled with Truth, there was more at stake than a mere championship.  Unbeknownst to Jacob, his very name and life were about to be changed.  In the heat of the battle, Truth touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh – dislocating his hip.  Tired, in pain and recognizing he was in the presence of one greater than him, Jacob would not let go until the mystery man blessed him.  Ironically, the one who stole a blessing is now seeking one for himself.  When asked for his name, the deceiver simply replied, “Jacob.”  The man of mystery said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

God likes to engage His children.  He could have challenged Jacob to a game of chess and dealt with him on an intellectual level.  He could have challenged Jacob to a myriad of different physical challenges.  Instead, He chose to wrestle him.  Wrestling is intimate.  It is body on body.  It is sweat upon sweat.  No other physical contest provides as much physical contact.  It is just like God to desire that kind of contact with His children. It is just like God to pursue His wayward kids – even in their darkest night.  While you are alone in your darkness, He shows up and wants to wrestle.  While everyone else is running from you (in pain) or after you (in anger) – God is both brave enough and loving enough to deal with you head on.  God knows His children intimately and how to grow us – even if it requires Him to first “touch” us where it hurts.

Like Jacob, I spent quite a few years running from others.  Many of my decisions have also left me alone, in the dark.  As I look around the landscape, there have been no shortage of Pharisees with stones in their hands aimed at my direction.  I have done some late night wrestling with a mysterious God and have had virtually every area of my life dislocated as a result.  Like Jacob, I will spend the rest of my days walking with a reputational limp… every step reminding me of a past I’d prefer to forget.  And yet, in the gritty process I have been blessed.  I have received a new identity.  I understand a bit more clearer how the Redeemer redeems.

Oh, how that Redeemer loves to wrestle – even today.  He still dislocates hips.  And changes names.   And changes lives.  And gives a blessing to those who don’t deserve them. 

May it be so for Lance.   A new Lance with a limp. 

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The overwhelming scent of a woman

Chanel-No-5-perfumePerfume smells nice unless you are in Seat 1A, next to the overly fragranced flight attendant, 35,000 feet high, on a tiny express plane with circulated air – which is where I am at the moment.   My seat is conveniently located near the door.  It is also next to the flight attendant seat where she performs most of her duties.  If the Guinness Book of World Records had a category for “Excessive Perfume Wearing” her picture would be next to it.  If it had a category of “Most Consecutive Gags”, my photo would be there.  At that close proximity, perfume becomes more of a taste than a smell causing you to sneeze more than sniff.   What is it with some ladies and perfume and the generous amounts they apply to their skin?   (To be fair, I imagine that the same could be said of men and cologne.)  What’s supposed to be pleasant becomes putrid.   What’s supposed to be attracting becomes distracting.   As she was publicly reviewing the safety procedures, less than 12 inches from my side, all I kept thinking was how I wished the oxygen masks would drop.   Now.   Before I do. 

I’ve never been one to appreciate perfume.   If anyone ever tried to use it to attract me, they would be severely disappointed.   For one, my sense of smell is by far my weakest sense.  I could see dead people with my 6th sense (movie reference) before I can smell anything.  Although I understand the importance of stopping to “smell the roses”, it seems to be a futile exercise with my nose.  Some lack taste buds making food taste bland.  I lack a keen sense of smell making it difficult to appreciate most odors.   Unfortunately, the only odors that seem to have a straight line to my nostrils are obscene amounts of ladies perfume, the smell of manure from the farmlands of Lancaster, PA and the occasional stray fart conveniently claimed by no one in public settings.   It is for this reason, I never serve baked beans in my home, though rumor has it they are “good for your heart.”   Apparently, the more you eat, the more you… well, never mind.   It’s just a theory.

I also never walk past the perfume section of department stores.   Ever.  The only difference between the ladies at the perfume counter and a trained military sniper is clothing.  They both hunt you down, aim with deadly precision and can disable you within seconds.   The snipers merely wear camouflage, you can’t see them coming. 

My 12-year-old daughter has recently discovered a renewed interest in make-up and perfume, to my chagrin.  When she has a friend sleep over, her room begins to smell like a perfume factory.  Amidst the giggles, the odor is so powerful that you would think that perfume was being created there.   It wouldn’t surprise me if my daughter has the meth-lab equivalent of perfume in my house.  I’m waiting for Chanel 5 to raid her room.   I’d go see for myself, but I can’t get past the door before I have to stop, drop and roll.  I have since placed a Haz-mat sticker on her door.   

So, this post is for the ladies that wear perfume at nauseating levels.   Though some men really enjoy your odor… many of us don’t.   May I offer two suggestions?

Less is more.   Yes, it smells good.  But just like one piece of gum makes your breath a bit fresher, it does not mean that 10 pieces of gum are better.  No one wants to watch someone chew on 10 pieces of gum at once.  In the same manner, no one wants to smell a perfume factory in their olfactory.  A little perfume goes a long way.  

Consider your environment.  If you are about to run the Boston Marathon and feel like creating a pleasant trail of scent for the people behind you, by all means – drench yourself in perfume.   The outdoor environment can handle your excessive application.  If, however, you plan on being in an elevator, office, plane or other enclosed space, please re-consider the amount of perfume you place on yourself. 

All joking aside, I’m less troubled by the amount of perfume that is worn and more concerned as to why it’s there in the first place.  Like most things in life, perfume is not inerrantly bad but the motive it is on could be.  Motives, I have come to learn, are the playground the mature play on.  What we do is important.  Why we do it is equally important, particularly as we get older.  

Today I find myself raising a teenage daughter who is (daily) becoming more aware of her body and image.  In spite of her appearance on any given day, I want her know that she is loved unconditionally beyond her wildest imaginations. Her outward appearance is merely a shell – not who she really is.  Underneath her beautiful hair, winning smile & trimmed eyelashes is the apple of her Daddy’s eye.  And a bad hair day, the addition of a few pounds or the sprinkling of perfume cannot change that. 

Sadly though, this is not the message the girls in our culture hear – particularly in our beauty-centered environment.   Because of this, an apology is due…from my gender to theirs.  

“Dear Ladies, as I wait in line at the grocery store, I see the models on the covers of the magazines that you are supposed to emulate.  I have watched the beauties in the pageants and the impossible standard they set for all women worldwide.  I watch the commercials of the companies that sell the products that you “need” to buy to become a better you.  And I hear the comments made by men on sitcoms and around water coolers about women and how they should look.  And if I’m honest, I have contributed to the problem more times than I care to admit.  No wonder women run to make-up or perfume or hair spray or weight loss programs.  From your earliest memory you have been taught that you are not good enough (or smart enough, pretty enough, thin enough, etc).  And you never will be, with that criteria in place.  You are destined to fail in pleasing a man as that man is destined to fail in pleasing you.  Pleasing each other was never supposed to be our first priority or highest goal.  Forgive us, the men in your life, who have misled you into chasing lesser things – our shallow affections.”

In fact, even two thousand years ago, Roman culture reflected our current shallow culture today.  The pressures women face today (to be beautiful) have not changed, just the products available to them.  So prevalent was this problem among women that God, through His biblical writers, shared what adornments were important to Him.   His tastes have not changed today.

 “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.”  (I Timothy 2:9-10)

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves.”  (I Peter 3:3-5)

What if we had more Moms (or women) that pursued the “unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit“?

We would probably have more daughters (or girls) who dressed modestly and had a healthier perspective on make-up and what it could and should do for them.

And this may not happen until we have more Dads (or men) doing a better job of sharing what is truly important in the females entrusted to us. 

It’s not the cover of the magazine that should get our attention but the content within.   Character, not cosmetics, should turn our heads.   That should be the overwhelming scent in all of our lives.

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